The PM, the peer and the gay gangster

THE CABINET CRISIS OF 1964

IN ITS dying days in the summer of 1964, Sir Alec Douglas-Home's Tory government feared it was about to face another sex scandal similar to the the Profumo case the year before.

John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had been forced to resign after it emerged that he had slept with a woman who was also having an affair with a Soviet diplomat.

On 12 July 1964, the Sunday Mirror published a front page lead story under the headline: "Peer and a gangster: Yard probe." The newspaper claimed police were investigating an alleged homosexual relationship between a "prominent peer and a leading thug inthe London underworld", who is alleged to be involved in a West End protection racket.

It said the peer was a "household name", and that the inquiries embraced Mayfair parties attended by the peer and the thug, and "the private weekend activities of the peer and a number of prominent public men during visits to Brighton". Scotland Yard wasalso looking at "relationships between the East End gangsters and a number of clergymen". It also spoke of allegations of blackmail.

Although the peer was not named, Fleet Street and the Commons had heard the rumours, and identified the peer as Lord Boothby, a former Conservative private secretary to Churchill, and then a radio and television personality. The Kray's had not yet achieved their notoriety.

Other newspapers did little about the story, and Scotland Yard denied it, but the Home Office and the Prime Minister's office were taking it seriously. The Profumo scandal had similarly simmered beneath the surface for months before exploding.

Sir Tim Bligh, the Prime Minister's private secretary, illustrated how the rumour mill had begun to operate when he sent a note to Douglas-Home on July 18 saying he had spoken to the chief whip, who had heard from two backbench Tory MPs that "Lord Boothby and (Tom) Driberg, (a Labour MP) had been importuning males at a dog track and were involved with gangs of thugs who dispose of their money at the tracks".

Bligh, apparently believing the tales, said the information "has been passed on to the Home Office", and that "the chief whip's (Martin Redmayne) view remains that if a prosecution was impending and was being held up, it should proceed".

The next day the Sunday Mirror splashed again on the story, saying it had a picture of the peer and the gangster sitting on a sofa.

At Chequers that day the story and its implications were debated by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Dilhorne, the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, and the Prime Minister.

Later another backbench MP told Brooke's personal private secretary he knew the photograph of Boothby and Kray was incriminating, although he had not seen it.

Boothby had by now returned from holiday abroad with Sir Colin Coote, editor of the Daily Telegraph, and sent a detailed letter to the Home Secretary explaining his innocence. The photograph had been taken when Ronald Kray had come to his house six months earlier to discuss a legitimate business proposition. Boothby had not known Kray was a criminal, and had in any case turned down the business plan. Kray had wanted to be pictured with Boothby because he was a personality, and it would have been churlish to refuse. Boothby was not a homosexual, he told Brooke.

On 21 July the Home Secretary chaired a secret meeting of senior Conservatives to discuss what is now being seen as an impending crisis. At his request, the editor and reporter at the Sunday Mirror were interviewed but said nothing.

At this stage MI5 was asked what it knew, and said it had nothing on Boothby or Kray. The chief whip said he believed there was a conspiracy between the Labour Party and the Mirror.

Given a note about the meeting, the unworldly Douglas-Home, out of touch with the subtleties of London gossip, scribbled a note puzzling that if it is politically motivated, why is Boothby involved?

William Deedes, future editor of the Daily Telegraph and then a minister without portfolio, tried without success to find out from Fleet Street the source of the Mirror's story.

Bligh, the Prime Minister's private secretary, by now had the story completely out of proportion, and had picked up the fact that Coote had been peripherally involved with characters in the Profumo scandal.

Then almost as suddenly as it had blown up, the story went away. The Mirror later conceded it had no justification, apologised and paid the peer £40,000 in out of court damages, a massive sum 30 years ago.

Boothby, although always in precarious financial state, partly because of his gambling, gave the money away, mainly to members of his family and children of his friends for their education.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?