Stephen Ward wasn't murdered. I was there

Journalism is further discredited by half-baked claims that the osteopath at the centre of the Profumo affair, was killed

Share
Related Topics

Whether Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical which opens next week about the life and death of Stephen Ward succeeds or fails it is a generous gesture for the impresario to use this device as the platform to campaign for a judicial review of the conviction half a century ago of the society osteopath. It was an event which led directly to his suicide. He was at the centre of the Profumo sex and spies scandal which rocked Britain in 1963 when the War minister had an affair with the showgirl Christine Keeler who claimed to be sleeping with a London-based Russian intelligence officer Eugene Ivanov at the same time.

Ward killed himself having been targeted by a vindictive state seeking a scapegoat for Profumo's behaviour; was prosecuted for crimes that it is now generally accepted he did not commit, facing evidence from witnesses who were coerced by police into lying; and pilloried by a hysterical tabloid press.

Fearing contamination, most of his many "friends" deserted him, and British intelligence agencies who had been happy to use him failed to speak up for him in court. Ward was a broken man when he took an overdose of sleeping tablets while staying with one last friend in a flat in Chelsea. I know. I was with him that night.

The anniversary has been celebrated by conspiracy theorists crawling, blinking into the light to announce to stunned newspaper readers the sensational revelation that Stephen Ward "may" have been murdered by MI5. A former colleague of mine from 40 years ago, the author Anthony Summers, a man with some form when it comes to conspiracy theories, has now determined that: "One can see why it may, repeat may, have been necessary to remove Ward from the scene … this was apparently a man with dangerous knowledge … he had inside information of MI5 efforts to manipulate Ivanov and the seamy activities of Establishment figures."

Summers has lent his reputation to a conspiracy theory – please don't giggle – which has an MI5 contract killer hiding in the Chelsea flat all night, then waking the drowsy Ward every few hours and inciting him to take ever increasing overdoses of the sleeping tablets which eventually killed him. The alleged killer is now conveniently dead but allegedly told a gabby friend on his deathbed…

Summers's interviews on this well publicised theory, published by two reputable national newspapers last week, brim with weasel words. "The story ends with a question mark," says Summers darkly. No it doesn't.

It is junk journalism at its very worst, complete piffle, a disgrace to our trade. Believe it if you believe Lord Lucan and Elvis are living under pseudonyms in a mud hut in Uganda. We are in so many ways the first and often the last draft of history; newspaper records and their on-line spill-over really do matter. Lies and rotten journalism go viral in seconds. We really do have a clear compact with our readers, listeners and viewers to get it right.

We are in enough trouble with Leveson and hacking and the shame of neurotic celebrity worship, without allowing so-called investigative journalism reaching "maybe" and "could have" conclusions without a shred of primary source evidence. And even less so when the "revelation" is tied in with a re-hashed book release.

What baffles me is that Summers did not bother to make the two simple "check your facts" phone calls, one to me and one to the other man in the flat that night, the tenant Noel Howard-Jones. They would have brought his loony-tunes theory crashing to the ground. Summers also seems to have forgotten that MI5 and MI6 don't do assassinations. Period. State-sanctioned killings, invariably against major terrorist organisations or well-armed enemies of the state, are done by others. So let me try to set the record straight with some facts.

What did happen on the night of Tuesday 30 July 1963 at Vale Court, 20 Mallord Street, Chelsea? Stephen was overnighting there with his friend Noel Howard-Jones. That evening Stephen called me in the Daily Express newsroom and asked me to come over to Mallord Street. I arrived there about 8.30pm. He was writing what I now know were his suicide notes. A friend Julie Gulliver was in the kitchen cooking dinner. Howard-Jones was out. I stayed with Stephen for several hours during which he gave me the note addressed to me, which regrettably I didn't read till later.

At about 11.35pm, I left him, and he left the flat to drive Julie back to her flat in Bayswater. Howard-Jones returned a few minutes later, and was there to let Ward in on his return at about midnight before going to bed. Ward then continued writing notes including one to Howard-Jones saying "delay resuscitation as long as possible".

There was no MI5 assassin hiding in the flat when Stephen, Julie and I were there; and there was no assassin when Howard-Jones returned. So we can account for the entire evening from 8.45pm to the moment Howard-Jones found Ward unconscious on the living-room divan in the morning. We know, for certain that no MI5 murderer was hiding in the tiny flat. Even the alleged "instrument of murder" – the Nembutal sleeping tablets, were Stephen's own.

Does all this matter – half a century later? Very much so. In a democracy, a free press must be trusted. Once we break down the firewalls between truth and conspiracy theory, once we enter the wilderness of unreality, paranoid fantasy will become our guide. Yes, this stuff sells more papers than the grey truth. But that makes it no less a form of editorial pornography. Don't believe all you read in the press? Sadly true.

Tom Mangold, former senior correspondent for BBC TV's 'Panorama', covered the Profumo Affair for the Daily Express in 1963

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Web Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Business Development Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to develop an ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor