A Very English Scandal

John Preston

£9.99, Penguin

This is the story of the downfall of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe and his trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder. The hardback edition was published some time ago. Legal aid lawyers had to wait for the paperback, which was published in June.

It makes for a riveting read. This is the story of the 1960s and covert homosexuality in politics, beginning at a time when homosexual acts were still criminal. Blackmail – or in this case fear of blackmail – results. It shows the Westminster bubble in which politicians live and look after their own, and of which so many today complain. It tells of fraud, the misuse of political funds and the extraordinarily amateur way in which a murder plot was put together. A dog died before the gun jammed. It shows the power of a charismatic politician to win over voters and the dangers of ambition.

And there are the lawyers. It tells the truth about George Carman’s drinking, unknown to this southern lawyer, yet this is the case that made his name. It shows Sir David Napley’s judgment in choosing him, a decision questioned by many until the acquittal – and Sir David’s business acumen in negotiating the fee.

For the ‘trial of the century’ the fee went down because of the publicity involved. There are some wonderful vignettes: the clerk to the justices using a Dictaphone strapped to his mouth for the committal proceedings. Today, there are no committals and it would have been far more difficult for Thorpe not to go in to the witness box – the right to silence worked for him. This very well-researched book tells it as it really was.

 Anthony Edwards is a solicitor at TV Edwards in London