Magazine article The Spectator

No New Insight

Magazine article The Spectator

No New Insight

Article excerpt

IT USED to be a characteristic of the English that an acquittal closed a case not only for the courts but for the country. Only grave injustice to somebody else or the emergence of serious new evidence on a matter of public interest could justify attempts to discuss publicly a case in which a jury had pronounced in favour of the accused.

Sadly, this rule of decency has not been followed for Jeremy Thorpe. The latest example of venom, directed at a man who was with his co-defendants acquitted over 17 years ago, is a book by Simon Freeman - described as a freelance writer called, with its author's unwavering taste for cliche, Rinkagate (other examples of his originality are that the Liberal Party had to be `dragged into the 20th century' while `fate steps in' from time to time). Freeman has been assisted by Barrie Penrose, described as a freelance journalist, and in the introduction we are made aware of how privileged we are to read the research of these brave seekers after truth. Freeman and Penrose, we are told, `were briefly co-editors of Insight, the legendary [my italics] investigative unit, which had a hierarchy of editor, reporters, researchers and secretaries, a budget and an office packed with neatly labelled files'. Wow!

Freeman's attitude to smears and rumours was already well-established when he was working for the Sunday Times. That Roger Hollis, the former director-general of MIS, `was himself suspected of being a KGB agent' was 'fun' to write about, although Hollis was cleared of these wounding charges by official inquiry.

To Freeman, the fact that it was an official inquiry is probably enough to damn it. He is convinced that nearly everything, including the acquittal of Thorpe, was due to the existence of the Establishment.

`Some of the jurors might in theory have been Liberals, anarchists or revolutionaries, but they had been brought up in a society where the idea of class and that a privileged minority were inherently superior was implanted deep in the subconscious of the majority - and to the jurors Cantley [the judge] and Thorpe would unquestionably have belonged to the elite, who, rightly or wrongly, had always run the country.' This was in 1979, when Labour had been in office for nearly 11 of the past 15 years and when the Conservative Party had been led by the Grocer and by the grocer's daughter since 1965.

Freeman also believes, or at any rate asserts, that the `old guard' in the BBC objected to Penrose, who was in their employ in the Seventies, because he was 'opinionated'. This was 'simplisitic' (sic) because the `old BBC had embodied just as many prejudices. For example, that the Empire and the class system were good and that socialism and egalitarianism were bad.' One had not realised that Reith still ruled in the age of the Beatles and that Hugh Carleton Greene had had so little impact.

The `British Establishment', according to Freeman, had not been pleased by the marriage of Marion Stein (now Mrs Jeremy Thorpe) to Lord Harewood because she was `foreign, a commoner and, worst of all, half Jewish'. As, until recently, most royal marriages were of foreigners to foreigners and as one of the virtues of the Establishment in general and the royal family in particular was that they were not anti-Semitic, this seems odd. Freeman, who if the blurb is to be believed read modern history at Oxford, might have recalled Queen Victoria's high regard for Disraeli, Edward VII's friendship with the Rothschilds, Balfour and Churchill's Zionism. But this would have complicated the scene `since the most talented reporters saw the world in terms of cover-ups and conspiracies, exploiters and exploited'. The author seems to think this a commendation.

Part of this exploitation, in Freeman's view, seems to be the fact that Thorpe's engagement announcement to his first wife in the Times was 'a regal paragraph'. Actually, its form was exactly that of all other engagement announcements in that then relatively serious newspaper. …

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