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John_Stonehouse

John Stonehouse

John Thomson Stonehouse (28 July 1925 - 14 April 1988) was a British politician and minister under Harold Wilson. Stonehouse is perhaps most famous for his unsuccessful attempt at faking his own death in 1974.

Education and early career

Stonehouse had a Trade Union upbringing and joined the Labour Party at the age of 16. He was educated at Taunton's Secondary Grammar School, Southampton and the London School of Economics. Stonehouse married Barbara Smith in 1948. They had three children. An economist, he became involved in co-operative enterprise and was a manager of African co-operative societies in Uganda 1952-54. He served as a director 1956-62 and president 1962-64 of the London Co-operative Society.

Stonehouse becomes an MP

Stonehouse was first elected as Labour Co-operative Member of Parliament (MP) for Wednesbury in a 1957 by-election, having contested Twickenham in 1950 and Burton in 1951, the year he married Barbara Smith, with whom he was to have two children. He served as a junior minister of aviation. At the ministry, he was involved in BOAC's order of Boeing 707 aircraft, against his own recommendation that they should invest in a rival aircraft, the Super VC-10. This led to his throwing accusations at colleagues about the reasons for the decision. Then in the Colonial Office, John Stonehouse's rise continued, and in 1967 he became Minister for Technology and as Postmaster General under Wilson until the post was abolished by the Post Office Act 1969. When Labour was defeated in the 1970 General Election, he was not appointed to the Shadow Cabinet. When the Wednesbury constituency was abolished in 1974, he stood for and was elected to the nearby Walsall North constituency.

Stonehouse oversaw the introduction of the highly unpopular first and second class stamps.

Business interests

After 1970, Stonehouse set up various companies in an attempt to secure a regular income. By 1974 most of these were in financial trouble, and he had resorted to cooking the books. Aware that the Department for Trade and Industry was looking at his affairs, he decided that his best choice would be to flee. Secret British government documents, declassified in 2005, indicate that Stonehouse spent months rehearsing his new identity, that of Joseph Markham - the dead husband of a constituent.

Fakes his own death

Stonehouse maintained the pretence of normality until his pretend suicide on November 20 1974, leaving a pile of clothes on a Miami beach. He was presumed dead, and obituaries were published despite the fact that no body had been found. In reality, he was en route to Australia, hoping to set up a new life with his mistress and secretary, Sheila Buckley. He was discovered by coincidence in Melbourne a month later (on Christmas Eve), the Australian police thinking he was Lord Lucan. He applied for the position of Bailiff and Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds while still in Australia (one of the ways for an MP to resign), but decided not to sign the papers.

The delay in his extradition was caused partly by reluctance on the part of the Australians to deport a British MP. However, six months after he was discovered, he was deported to the UK, though he had tried to obtain offers of asylum from Sweden or Mauritius.

He returned in June 1975, and was remanded in Brixton Prison until August. He continued to act as an MP. Although unhappy with the situation, the Labour Party did not expel him. On 7 April 1976, three weeks before his trial, he resigned the Labour whip, making them a minority government. A few days later he joined the English National Party.

On trial

The MP's trial, on 21 charges of fraud, theft, forgery, conspiracy to defraud, causing a false police investigation and wasting police time lasted 68 days. Stonehouse conducted his own defence at the trial. He was convicted and sentenced to 7 years prison for fraud. He was imprisoned in HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs where he complained that the prison workshop, where he was employed, played pop-music radio stations.

He finally agreed to resign on August 28 as MP and also Privy Counsellor (becoming one of only three people to resign from the Privy Council in the 20th century). The by-election was won by Robin Hodgson, a Conservative.

After his conviction, Stonehouse's wife divorced him in 1978.

Whilst in prison, his health deteriorated. He was later moved to Blundeston Prison. Stonehouse was released early from prison in August 1979 due to having suffered three heart attacks and having undergone open heart surgery in November 1978.

After jail

After release, he worked as a volunteer fundraiser for east London Charity, Community Links for several years. He joined the Social Democratic Party, which later merged to become the Liberal Democrats.

Stonehouse married Sheila Buckley in Hampshire on 31 January 1981 and shortly afterwards their son was born. Stonehouse wrote three novels, and made several TV appearances, mostly in connection with discussing his disappearance. A month before his death, he abruptly collapsed on set during a TV show, but recovered. This was only temporary however. John Stonehouse died on the evening of 14 April 1988 from a fourth heart attack. A fourth novel he was working on at the time of his death was published posthumously, in 1989.

Stonehouse's son was educated at Millfield - then the country's most expensive public school.

Bibliography

  • Death of an Idealist (1975) ISBN 0-491-01615-8
  • Ralph (1982) ISBN 0-224-02019-6
  • The Baring Fault (1986) ISBN 0-7145-4106-0
  • Oil on the Rift (1987)
  • Who Sold Australia (1989)

Offices held

References

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