Magazine article History Today

The London Plot to Kill Mussolini

Magazine article History Today

The London Plot to Kill Mussolini

Article excerpt

A home office file released after sixty-seven years of secrecy reveals that evidence of a London-based plot to murder the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, was suppressed on government orders when details threatened to be made public during a libel hearing in the early 1930s.

The plot was monitored by British Intelligence and details reached the Home Office and the Foreign Office under the government of Ramsay MacDonald pointing to the involvement of a Soho businessman suspected of having provided money and weapons for the assassination attempt in Rome. He was Emidio Recchioni, in his late sixties, of Italian origin with British nationality, well known to MI5 and the Special Branch as a political activist with a network of influential friends in literary and political circles.

The file, which was due to have remained closed until 2035, has passages covered up with black ink, but reveals that instead of leading to Recchioni's arrest the Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Trenchard, decided that it was better to obstruct the course of justice than to allow sensitive information to come to light.

According to Italian sources in contact with Colonel Carter of the Special Branch, Recchioni had developed `a personal friendship with the prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald'.

Recchioni was born near Ravenna in 1864 and arrived in England in 1899 after becoming embroiled in an assassination attempt on the prime minister Francesco Crispi. He acquired a delicatessen shop in Soho's Old Compton Street called King Bomba, which became legendary for the quality of its imported Italian products. Recchioni's crusade against Mussolini began in 1921 when the Italian Fascio opened an office at 25 Noel Street, Soho.

He soon turned King Bomba into a centre of intellectual and political activity against the dictatorship. The Italian historian Gaetano Salvemini and scores of Italian political exiles were among the guests. George Orwell, Emma Goldman and Sylvia Pankhurst used the shop in later years for anti-fascist activities. Rumours that Recchioni was organising plots to kill Mussolini began to circulate in 1929 and were conveyed to the Italian authorities by Carter himself who was in touch with agents of the Italian secret police, Ovra. One reported to Rome: `The enclosed recent photograph of Recchioni has been provided by Colonel Carter' and another: `Recchioni has a personal friendship with the Prime Minister MacDonald'. The Home Office file reveals that Carter fiercely and successfully opposed Recchioni's application for naturalisation under the Conservative government but he came under pressure and was overruled soon after MacDonald arrived at Downing Street. Lord Trenchard who became Police Commissioner after Carter's departure wrote in a `very secret' note: `Recchioni was naturalised in spite of a bad report from the Superintendent of the Special Branch who called him `an intriguer of the first order'. But after discussion with Sir John Pedder (Principal Assistant Secretary at the Home Office) Colonel Carter felt he could not oppose naturalisation'.

In 1931 Recchioni travelled to Brussels with his new British passport. He was shadowed by a Special Branch agent called J. …

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