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The Gangster and the Peer: How the Media Cover-up Political Conspiracies

John Simkin

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It is a myth that is often repeated, that in a modern democratic society with a free press it is impossible to keep a political conspiracy secret. There was a C4 documentary on last night that showed in some detail how such a conspiracy can be covered-up.

In 1963 Michael Thornton, a journalist working for the Sunday Express, heard rumours that Lord Boothby, a former member of the Conservative government, was having a homosexual relationship with Ronnie Kray, the leader of one of the most notorious criminal gangs in London. Thornton became friendly with Boothby and even attended the sex parties organized by Kray. He discovered that Boothby was introducing Kray to upper-class homosexuals whereas Kray was providing Boothby with working-class rent boys. At the time, homosexuality was illegal in the UK.

Amazingly, Boothby was also having an affair with Dorothy Macmillan, wife of his fellow Conservative politician and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He was also rumoured to be having an affair with the Queen Mother, who described him as "a bounder but not a cad".

On one occasion, Kray used a gun on Thornton in an attempt to have sex with him. Thornton decided that it was now time to write-up the article on the Kray-Boothby relationship. However, the editor of the Sunday Express, a Tory newspaper, refused to publish the story as he thought it would bring down the Conservative government that was still reeling from the Profumo scandal.

Someone, probably Thornton, leaked the story to the Labour supporting Daily Mirror. This included a photograph showing Lord Boothby, Ronnie Kray and Leslie Holt, a rent boy with a criminal record, who had been sleeping with both men. Despite having the necessary evidence, he newspaper editor published the story without naming either Boothby or Kray. Instead, they were described as the “Lord” and the “Crime Boss”. The story also revealed that the two men were being investigated by Scotland Yard as a result of their “illegal relationship” that dated back to the early 1960s. A German magazine did publish the names of the two men but this was not reported in the UK press.

It later emerged that the reason that the men were not named in the Daily Mirror, was the owner, Cecil King, refused permission for the editor to do this. It was argued that the Labour MP, Tom Driberg, was also involved with Ronnie Kray and had also attended these sex parties. To show that Harold Wilson, the leader of the Labour Party, was also committed to keeping this story out of the press, he suggested that his legal advisor, Lord Goodman, should represent Boothby.

Boothby now wrote a letter to The Times and argued that the Daily Mirror had been referring to him and that he intended to sue this newspaper for libel. He claimed that he had only met Kray three times. However, this had been public events in 1964 (there were published photographs of these meetings and so they could not be denied). When the case came to court, the Daily Mirror decided not to reveal the compromising photograph. Unwilling to defend their story, Lord Boothby was awarded £40,000 and the editor of the newspaper was sacked. This resulted in other newspapers not touching the story. Scotland Yard was also ordered to drop their investigation into Boothby and Ronnie Kray.

In 1965 the brothers were arrested and charged with running a protection racket. Lord Boothby raised the case in the House of Lords and called for them to be released on bail. This is completely unconstitutional and he was shouted down in the chamber. Later it was revealed that Kray had comprising photographs of Boothby and he was therefore blackmailed into raising the case in the House of Lords.

Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell in the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel on 9th March 1966. The following year, his twin-brother, Reggie Kray, killed Jack McVitie. Scotland Yard was now forced to take action and arrest the two brothers for the murders of Cornell and McVitie.

The Kray brothers were both were sentenced to life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders of Cornell and McVitie, the longest sentences ever passed at the Central Criminal Court for murder. Their brother Charlie was jailed for 10 years for his part in the murders.

John Pearson, a freelance journalist, had been working on the case for several years. After their conviction, Ronnie Kray arranged for his mother to pass over documents and photographs showing that Boothby had been having a corrupt relationship with the Krays since the early 1960s. In other words, evidence that supported the story that appeared in the Daily Mirror in 1964. Pearson finished the book on the case and arranged for it to be serialized in the Sunday Observer newspaper. However, the publisher refused to publish the final manuscript and the newspaper cancelled its contract to publish a series of articles by Pearson. Every other publisher and newspaper refused to publish this story.

John Pearson’s book was only published after Lord Boothby died. Even so, the newspapers ignored the book as it revealed how they had all joined forces to stop the truth coming out about the prominent politician and an underworld crime boss.

Pearson recently used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the Scotland Yard report on the Boothby and Kray relationship. The report revealed that several prominent figures were involved in the cover-up. However, the passage naming these men has been blacked out on the advice of the Attorney General. The reason given is that some of these men are still alive.

The documentary was shown on television last night. Once again, the rest of the media has ignored this story. It is not surprising when you consider how this story reveals how the media is willing to join forces with the political and legal establishment to cover-up corruption in public life.

You can see the programme here:


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