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The 1963 Cabinet Papers / The Profumo Scandal: Ward made plea for help to stop 'pressure'

TIM BLIGH, Harold Macmillan's personal assistant, held a long late-night conversation with Dr Stephen Ward, one of the key players in the Profumo scandal, a verbatim transcript reveals.

The transcript includes pauses, suggesting it came from a tape recording. At one stage Bligh asked if he might take notes, suggesting neither knew of the tape recorder.

The conversation, in May, was dismissed by Lord Denning in his 1963 report as a crude attempt by Ward at blackmail, to try to get criminal charges against him dropped. But the 14-page transcript released today shows Ward made no demands.

Ward died in August 1963 after taking an overdose of sleeping pills before the end of his trial for living on the earnings of prostitution and procuring women.

Ward told Bligh what later emerged as the truth, that Profumo had lied to the Commons by saying there was nothing improper in his relationship with Christine Keeler. They discussed the security status of Eugene Ivanov, a Russian military attache and friend of Ward's. Denning dismissed Ward's evidence as unreliable, but far from dismissing him, Bligh told him a great deal of information which has been deleted from the files because it is still sensitive.

Its significance is the date. Macmillan continued to believe Profumo for a further month. The files show that Ward rang at 3.45 on 7 May to make an appointment, and Bligh agreed to see him at 9pm. The conversation began with Ward asking Bligh: 'How many of the facts do you actually know of the situation as it really exists?' Bligh said he had seen the newspapers. Ward offered to tell him the true facts.

He made it clear that he did not want to talk about security matters. 'You see the facts as presented probably in Parliament were not strictly speaking just like that. I fear, I fear a change may be forced in the situation. It's very difficult for me to say - you can see the only way in which I can save the situation, I don't know, I came to you in considerable distress with this enormous pressure being put on me all round, enormous pressure. I don't know if you know the extent of the sacrifice I did make for him, or have any idea of it. And the consequence is that I am being absolutely driven into the ground, and wondered if there was any possible thing you could do to prevent this happening?'

Ward said all his friends were being questioned about security. 'If you don't know the true story, it's impossible to understand exactly how this situation has come about, and I'm not sure if I should tell you or not . . . I'm quite prepared to tell you.'

He suddenly blurted out that his lawyers had been in contact with Mr Profumo. 'He wrote Miss Keeler a series of letters. The attachment was a much deeper one than . . .'

At his point Bligh stopped Ward, and said he would start taking notes. Ward continued: 'He wrote, I think five letters in all (to Keeler). Two I was able to destroy - I just found them lying around. There's no reason on earth why . . . she attached no value to them at all. And I didn't read them - I don't know what they were at all. One was destroyed by somebody called Lambton. And one, I haven't been able to track down, it doesn't seem to be in existence. And one was sold to the Sunday Pictorial. Did you know about this?'

'Well no, I didn't know anything about this case at all.'

Ward then said he had made his 'sacrifice' for Profumo, by allowing the paper to publish an article purporting to be by him, in exchange for the letter. But by then the letter had been seen by the Labour MP George Wigg and others, and the rumour of the affair spread in Fleet Street.

Bligh said he was not clear how he could help. Ward said he was interested in clearing his name. He wanted to stop the Fleet Street rumours. He asked if Ivanov was a security risk. The reply has been removed.

'I personally was very fond of the Russian,' Ward said. 'I hope he wasn't a spy or anything dreadful.'

They continued to discuss Ivanov's role for two pages of text. All of Bligh's side of the discussion has been removed. They returned to considering how Bligh might help clear Ward's name. Ward suggested 'a statement in the House, something of that sort'. Bligh said: 'Lots of people ring up and say can they come and see me, but they don't always bring the problems I can help with. It's just one of those . . . with the best will in the world, I don't see that there is anything . . .'

Ward then makes the nearest he comes to what Denning interpreted as blackmail: 'What you are really saying is there's no possible statement or anything that would allow me to drop my libel actions which would obviously be embarrassing or anything like this'

Bligh: 'No. I think that one must proceed with the normal remedies that are open to a citizen of this country. That's all you can do.'

Ward: 'Well, I'm sorry. I didn't come here to make any demands. I just sort of hoped, but obviously I'm not in a position to, but anyway I'm sure you knew all those facts, you must have done, but it is interesting to compare them with your own conclusions as to whether they fit.'

Bligh said he had to get back to the Commons. Ward concluded: 'I didn't really come here with the intention of telling tales out of school . . . I'd prefer you did preserve confidence as far as Mr Profumo is concerned.'

Bligh immediately sent his notes of the conversation to the Prime Minister and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Joseph Simpson. The next day he sent a full transcript to Sir Roger Hollis, head of MI5.