Scandal minister Profumo dies at 91

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John Profumo, the man at the centre of the most notorious political sex scandal of the 20th century, has died at the age of 91 after suffering a stroke.

Profumo, who spent four decades atoning for his disgrace, died peacefully at about midnight last night surrounded by his family, a spokesman for London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital said. He had been admitted to hospital two days earlier.

Today tributes were paid to the former Conservative Secretary of State for War, who was forced to resign from the Cabinet for lying to the House of Commons over his affair with call girl Christine Keeler.

His departure in 1963 signalled the downfall of Harold Macmillan's Conservative government, which lost the general election the following year.

Following his departure from politics, Profumo dedicated himself to charity work in the East End of London and was awarded the CBE in 1975.

He was shunned for many years by his former colleagues, some of whom blamed him for the Tories' decline in the 1960s.

Macmillan's Cabinet was sent into crisis by Keeler's revelations that she had sex with both Profumo and Commander Eugene Ivanov, a Russian intelligence officer and the Soviet assistant naval attache in London.

In March 1963 Profumo made a statement to MPs denying any "impropriety whatever" in his relationship with Keeler.

He was forced to resign on June 4 1963 after admitting that he had misled the House of Commons.

Friends today said the former minister should not just be remembered for the affair, which was turned into the film Scandal in 1989, with Sir Ian McKellen playing the role of Profumo.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "Many will automatically remember his spectacular fall from grace in the Christine Keeler affair. But I will remember his remarkable work after that in the East End of London.

"For years after he stood down as a frontline politician he dedicated his life to helping the many devastated people in London.

"His enormous efforts will have changed the lives of many people over the years and he will be sadly missed by them and many of us who knew the other Jack Profumo."

Lord (Bill) Deedes said: "He atoned for his mistakes and I think will, on death, receive his reward for that."

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The fact is what he did, and continued to do until quite recently, was a very long stint of social work for the poor of east London.

"And if that isn't considered to be sufficient atonement for the mistake he made then there is no such thing as forgiveness."

Mr Profumo was heavily involved with Toynbee Hall, a charity supporting people in the East End of London.

Its chief executive Luke Geoghegan said today: "John Profumo was an inspiration to us all. His tireless commitment to the organisation's development, and particularly fundraising, continued to the end."

Political historian Anthony Howard described Profumo as a "man of charm" but a "lightweight politician".

Mr Howard said "technically" the Profumo affair did not bring down Macmillan because he retired through ill-health.

But he added: "It did do tremendous damage, the country went hysterical. People went absolutely crazy. It did enormous damage, that's certainly true.

"But then for 40 years or more Jack Profumo, first of all with his wife, he devoted himself to social work in the East End."

He said Profumo would never talk about the scandal.

"He never wanted to talk about the Profumo affair ever."

Profumo was educated at Harrow and Oxford and later married the actress Valerie Hobson.

He entered the Commons in 1940 aged 25, becoming the youngest MP in the House.

Macmillan made him Secretary of State for War in July 1960 with a brief to boost Army recruitment following the end of conscription.

His brief affair with Keeler began after he was introduced to her by osteopath Stephen Ward at Lord Astor's Cliveden country estate in Berkshire in July 1961.

Rumours about the affair became public in 1963, as did the revelation that Keeler had also had a relationship with Ivanov.

After his claim that there had been "no impropriety whatever", Profumo finally admitted that he had lied to the Government about the affair and tendered his resignation in a letter to the Prime Minister.

A month later, Macmillan resigned, his ill-health exacerbated by the scandal.

Ward was prosecuted for living on immoral earnings and committed suicide. Keeler was found guilty on unrelated perjury charges and sentenced to nine months in prison.