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The Strange Case of Tom Driberg

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Tom Driberg was born at Crowborough, East Sussex, on 22nd May 1905. His father, John Driberg, worked for the Indian Civil Service. Educated at Lancing College, Driberg joined the Communist Party when he was fifteen.

Driberg went to Christ Church, Oxford, and studied classics (1924-27) but left without graduating. During the General Strike Driberg worked at party headquarters and began writing for the communist newspaper, Sunday Worker.

In 1928 he joined the Daily Express as a gossip columnist. He came to the attention of Lord Beaverbrook who gave him his own column "These Names Makes News". It was at this time that Driberg began using the pen name, William Hickey, a famous 18th century diarist.

Driberg was a strong opponent of the British government's Non-Intervention policy in the Spanish Civil War. He visited Spain as a journalist during the war. In January 1939, he helped to take food supplies to the Republican Army fighting General Francisco Franco and his nationalist forces.

Maxwell Knight, head of B5b, a unit that conducted the monitoring of political subversion, recruited Driberg as an agent for MI5. In 1941 Anthony Blunt informed Harry Pollitt that Driberg was an informer and he was expelled from the Communist Party. Knight now suspected that his unit had been infiltrated by the KGB but it was not until after the war that MI5 discovered that Blunt was responsible for exposing Driberg.

In 1942 he was elected to the House of Commons at the Maldon by-election as an Independent. In 1943 Driberg was dismissed from the Daily Express and transferred to the Reynold's News. He later wrote for the Daily Mail and the New Statesman.

During the Second World War Driberg joined the Labour Party and in 1945 retained his seat in Parliament. In 1949 he was elected to the party's National Executive but he was severely censured in 1950 for gross neglect of his parliamentary duties by taking three months off to report on the Korean War.

In his book, Spycatcher (1987), Peter Wright, who had previously worked for MI5 claimed: "Since the 1960s a wealth of material about the penetration of the latter two bodies had been flowing into MI5's files, principally from two Czechoslovakian defectors named Frolik and August. They named a series of Labour Party politicians and trade union leaders as Eastern Bloc agents... Tom Driberg was another MP named by the Czech defectors. I went to see Driberg myself, and he finally admitted that he was providing material to a Czech controller for money. For a while we ran Driberg on, but apart from picking up a mass of salacious detail about Laboir Party peccadilloes, he had nothing of interest for us."

Tom Driberg served as chairman of the Labour Party National Executive in 1957-58. After losing Maldon in 1958 Driberg moved to Barking which he won in 1959.

Driberg was homosexual and he attended sex parties with Lord Boothby in London. According to the journalist, John Pearson, "Driberg got to know them through Mad Teddy Smith, a good-looking psychopathic gangster who was a friend and occasional enemy of the Krays. Driberg, described as a voracious homosexual, is said to have given Smith the addresses of his rich acquaintances, whose houses he might burgle in return for sexual favours." As a result of these sex parties Boothby began an affair with gangster Ronnie Kray.

In June 1964, two Conservative back-benchers reported to the chief whip that they had seen Driberg and Lord Boothby at a dog track importuning boys. Boothby was on holiday with Colin Coote, the editor of the Daily Telegraph, when on 12 July 1964, the Sunday Mirror published a front page lead story under the headline: "Peer and a gangster: Yard probe." The newspaper claimed police were investigating an alleged homosexual relationship between a "prominent peer and a leading thug in the London underworld", who is alleged to be involved in a West End protection racket.

The following week the newspaper said it had a picture of the peer and the gangster sitting on a sofa. Rumours soon began circulating that the peer was Lord Boothby and the gangster was Ronnie Kray. Stories also circulated that Harold Wilson and Cecil King, the chairman of the International Publishing Corporation were conspiring in an attempt to overthrow the Conservative government led by Alec Douglas-Home. Boothby's friend, Colin Coote used his contacts in the media to discover what was going on.

As journalist John Pearson pointed out: "By doing nothing he (Boothby) would tacitly accept the Sunday Mirror's accusations. On the other hand, to sue for libel would mean facing lengthy and expensive court proceedings which could ruin him financially - apart from whatever revelations the Sunday Mirror could produce to support its story." Boothby was then approached by two leading Labour Party figures, Gerald Gardiner, QC and solicitor Arnold Goodman. They offered to represent Lord Boothby in any libel case against the newspaper. Goodman was Wilson's "Mr Fixit" and Gardiner was later that year to become the new prime-minister's Lord Chancellor. Pearson has argued that Driberg was behind this cover-up: "As an important member of the Labour executive, Driberg had a lot of influence, particularly over Harold Wilson, and he would certainly have used it to encourage Arnold Goodman's rescue operation which would save Boothby and himself. All of which undoubtedly explains why, after the settlement, there was not a squeak in parliament about the case - and why instead there seemed an overwhelming cross-bench willingness to let sleeping dogs, however dirty, lie - and go on lying."

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Driberg was commissioned to write a book on Soviet spy, Guy Burgess, who he become friendly with in the 1940s. During his research for the book Driberg travelled to Moscow to interview Burgess. He later remarked: "He (Burgess) had lately moved into a new flat in Moscow, for which I had sent him a good deal of Scandinavian furniture from London, and I was able to spend a weekend at his dacha, in a country village about an hour's drive (by official pool car)."

Both Driberg and Burgess were homosexuals and it seems that they had some sort of sexual relationship while in the Soviet Union. According to the Mitrokhin Archive, Driberg was photographed in a homosexual encounter. The honeytrap operation was an attempt to force Driberg to spy for the KGB.


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