John Stonehouse

John Stonehouse
11.12.67 Présentation officielle du Concorde (1967) - 53Fi1742 (John Stonehouse).jpg
Minister of Posts and Telecommunications
In office
1 October 1969 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Himself (Postmaster General)
Succeeded by Christopher Chataway
Postmaster General
In office
1 July 1968 – 1 October 1969
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Roy Mason
Succeeded by Position abolished
Himself (Minister of Posts and Telecommunications)
The 2nd Viscount Hall (Chairman of the Post Office)
Member of Parliament
for Walsall North
In office
28 February 1974 – 27 August 1976
Preceded by William Wells
Succeeded by Robin Hodgson
Member of Parliament
for Wednesbury
In office
28 February 1957 – 28 February 1974
Preceded by Stanley Evans
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
John Thomson Stonehouse

(1925-07-28)28 July 1925
Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Died 14 April 1988(1988-04-14) (aged 62)
Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Political party Labour Co-operative (before 1981)
Other political
Liberal Democrats (1988)
Social Democratic (1981–88) English National Party (1976)
Barbara Smith
( m. 1948; div. 1978)

Sheila Buckley
( m. 1981; death 1988)
Children 4
Alma mater London School of Economics

John Thomson Stonehouse (28 July 1925 – 14 April 1988) was a British Labour and Co-operative Party politician and cabinet minister under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Stonehouse is remembered for his unsuccessful attempt at faking his own death in 1974.

More than twenty years after his death, it was publicly revealed that he had been an agent for the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic military intelligence. In 1979, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and top cabinet members learned from a Czech defector that Stonehouse had been a paid Czech spy since 1962. He had provided secrets about government plans as well as technical information about aircraft, and received about £5,000. He was already in prison for fraud and the government decided there was insufficient evidence to bring him to trial, so no announcement or prosecution was made.

Education and early career

Stonehouse was born in Southampton, had a trade unionist upbringing and joined the Labour Party at the age of sixteen. He was educated at Taunton's College, Southampton, and the London School of Economics. His mother, Rosina Stonehouse,[1] was the sixth female mayor of Southampton[2] and a councillor on Southampton City Council. Stonehouse was in the RAF for two years from 1944 when he was conscripted.

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.

Political career

Stonehouse stood unsuccessfully in Norwood at the 1949 London County Council election. He 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.

In February 1959, Stonehouse travelled to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland on a fact-finding tour in which he condemned the White minority government of Southern Rhodesia. Speaking to the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress, he encouraged Blacks to stand up for their rights and said they had the support of the British Labour Party. He was promptly deported from Southern Rhodesia and banned from returning a year later.[3]

Stonehouse allegedly began spying for Czechoslovakia in 1962. He served as a junior minister of aviation, where he was involved in BOAC's order of Boeing 707 aircraft from the United States, against his own recommendation that they should buy a British aircraft, the Super VC10. This led to his making accusations against colleagues about the reasons for the decision. In March 1968, he negotiated an agreement providing a framework for the long-term development of technological co-operation between Britain and Czechoslovakia. It provided for the exchange of specialists and information, facilities for study and research in technology, and such other forms of industrial co-operation which might be agreed.[4]

While in the Colonial Office, Stonehouse's rise continued, and in 1967 he became Minister of State for Technology under Tony Benn and later Postmaster General until the position was abolished by the Post Office Act 1969. As Postmaster General, Stonehouse oversaw the introduction of first and second-class stamps.

As Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in 1970, he oversaw the controversial jamming of the offshore radio station Radio North Sea International. When Labour was defeated at 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.

In 1969, Stonehouse was subjected to the assertion that he was a Czechoslovak secret service agent. He successfully defended himself,[5] but the allegation was substantiated in the official history of MI5, The Defence of the Realm (2009) by Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew.[6] In December 2010, it was revealed that then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had agreed in 1980 to cover up revelations that Stonehouse had been a Czech spy since the 1960s as there was insufficient evidence to bring him to trial.[7] Until Ray Mawby, briefly a member of a Conservative government, was exposed in June 2012,[8] Stonehouse was the only Minister known to have been an agent for the former Eastern bloc.

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 deceptive creative accounting. Aware that the Department of 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 deceased husband of a constituent.[9]

Faking his own death

Stonehouse maintained the pretence of normality until he faked his death on 20 November 1974, leaving a pile of clothes on a beach in Miami. It appeared that he had gone swimming, and had been drowned or possibly killed by a shark. He was presumed dead, and obituaries were published despite the fact that no corpse 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.

Using false identities, Stonehouse set about transferring large sums of money between banks as a further means of covering his tracks. Under the name of Clive Mildoon, he deposited $21,500 in cash at the Bank of New Zealand. The teller who handled the money later spotted "Mildoon" at the Bank of New South Wales. Inquiries led the teller to learn that the money was in the name of Joe Markham and he informed the local police. Stonehouse spent a while in Copenhagen with Sheila Buckley, but later returned to Australia, unaware that he was now under surveillance. The police initially suspected him of being The 7th Earl of Lucan, who had disappeared a fortnight before Stonehouse, following the murder of his children's nanny, Sandra Rivett. Investigators noted that the suspect was reading British newspapers that also included stories attacking the "recently deceased" John Stonehouse. They contacted Scotland Yard, requesting pictures of both Lord Lucan and Stonehouse. On his arrest, the police instructed him to pull down his trousers so they could be sure whether or not he was Lord Lucan, who had a six-inch scar on the inside of his right thigh.[10]

Arrest and aftermath

At a party for After Dark in 1987

Stonehouse was arrested on 24 December 1974.[11] He applied for the position of Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds while still in Australia (one of the ways for an MP to resign), but decided not to sign the papers. Six months after he was arrested, he was deported to the UK; he had tried to obtain offers of asylum from Sweden or Mauritius. He was remanded in Brixton Prison until August 1975 when he was released and put on bail. He continued to serve as an MP. Although unhappy with the situation, the Labour Party did not expel him.

Stonehouse conducted his own defence on 21 charges of fraud, theft, forgery, conspiracy to defraud, causing a false police investigation and wasting police time. His trial lasted 68 days. On 6 August 1976, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud.[12]

On 4 April 1976 Stonehouse attended a St George's Day festival hosted by the English National Party and confirmed he had joined the party, making Labour a minority government. He agreed to resign as a Privy Counsellor on 17 August 1976,[13] becoming one of only three people to resign from the Imperial Privy Council in the 20th century. Stonehouse tendered his resignation from the House of Commons on 27 August 1976.[14] The subsequent by-election was won by Robin Hodgson, a Conservative. In October 1976, Stonehouse was declared bankrupt.

Stonehouse was imprisoned in HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs. On 30 June 1977, the House of Lords refused his appeal against five of the charges of which he was convicted. Whilst in prison, he complained that the prison workshop where he worked played pop music on the radio station. When his health deteriorated, he was moved to Blundeston Prison.

Health problems

On 14 August 1979, he was released early from prison because of good behaviour and because he had suffered three heart attacks; the first on 18 April 1977; he had a second one four days later and a massive heart attack on 13 August 1978. On 6 September 1978 Stonehouse suffered a coronary ischemia attack which required him to spend three days in hospital. He underwent open heart surgery on 7 November 1978 which lasted for six hours.[15]

After release

From January 1980, Stonehouse was a volunteer fundraiser for the East London-based charity, Community Links. He joined the SDP, which later amalgamated with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats. In June 1980, he was discharged from bankruptcy. Stonehouse wrote three novels, and made TV appearances and radio broadcasts during the rest of his life, mostly in connection with discussing his disappearance. In June 1986 he appeared on TVS's Regrets programme[16] and in December that year on the BBC Radio 4 interview programme In The Psychiatrist's Chair with Anthony Clare.

Personal life

Stonehouse married Barbara Joan Smith in 1948, and they had two daughters, Jane and Julia, and a son, Mathew. After their divorce in 1978, Stonehouse married his mistress, Sheila Elizabeth Buckley, in Hampshire on 31 January 1981. In December 1982 their son James William John was born.

Actual death

On 25 March 1988, Stonehouse abruptly collapsed on set during an edition of Central Weekend in Birmingham during the filming of a programme about missing people. He was given emergency medical treatment at the studio and an ambulance was called. He was kept in the city's general hospital overnight before being discharged the following day. Just under three weeks later, early on 14 April, he suffered a massive heart attack at his house at Dales Way, Totton, where he had moved six months earlier, having lived in London since his release from prison, his last address there was at 20 Shirland Mews.[17] This time Stonehouse could not be saved, and he died in hospital at 2.30 am. He was cremated in Bassett Green, Southampton, on 22 April 1988.[18] The former MP Bruce Douglas-Mann paid tribute. In 1989, his fourth novel was published posthumously. He left under £70,000 according to his will published on 17 August 1988.[19]


  • Prohibited Immigrant, The Bodley Head, 1960, ISBN 978-1-135-35474-9 – Stonehouse's account of his 1959 African tour, which culminated in his deportation from Southern Rhodesia.
  • "My Trial", Star, June 1976, ISBN 978-0-352-39749-2.
  • Death of an Idealist, WH Allen, & Virgin Books, 25 November 1975, ISBN 0-491-01615-8.
  • Ralph, Jonathan Cape, 1982, ISBN 0-224-02019-6.
  • The Baring Fault, Calder Publications, 15 May 1986, ISBN 0-7145-4106-0.
  • Oil on the Rift, Robert Hale, 13 August 1987, ISBN 978-0-7090-3056-0.
  • Who Sold Australia?, UK: Robert Hale, 30 March 1989, ISBN 978-0-7090-3623-4.


  1. ^ "John Stonehouse prison treatment". British Universities Film & Video Council. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  2. ^ "The Secrets of Stonehouse", Southern Daily Echo, UK, 11 October 2009.
  3. ^ Keesing's Contemporary Archives Volume XII, (April 1959) p. 16774
  4. ^ Keesing's Contemporary Archives, Volume 14, (March, 1968) p. 22619
  5. ^ Meikie, James (5 October 2009), "MI5 suspects: John Stonehouse, Bernard Floud and Will Owen", The Guardian, UK.
  6. ^ Richard Norton-Taylor "MI5 monitored union and CND leaders with ministers' backing, book reveals", The Guardian, 5 October 2009
  7. ^ Travis, Alan (30 December 2010), "Margaret Thatcher in cover-up after Czech spy exposed John Stonehouse", The Guardian; Politics, UK.
  8. ^ Gordon Corera "Tory MP Raymond Mawby sold information to Czech spies", BBC News, 28 June 2012
  9. ^ "MP planned fake death for months", News, UK: BBC; Politics, 29 December 2005.
  10. ^ Wright, Edward 'Ed' (2006), History's greatest scandals: shocking stories of powerful people.
  11. ^ Robertson, Geoffrey (1999). The Justice Game. London: Vintage. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-09-958191-8.
  12. ^ MP planned fake death for months, 29 December 2005, BBC, retrieved at 2 September 2014
  13. ^ "Announcement from the Privy Council Office", The London Gazette, 19 August 1976
  14. ^ "Announcement from the Commons Speaker", The London Gazette, 31 August 1976
  15. ^ The Guardian - pp. 15–17 November 1978
  16. ^ "Regrets?[25/6/86] (1986)". BFI. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  17. ^ "Deaths, England and Wales, 1984–2006", Find My Past
  18. ^ Glasgow Herald. 15 April 1988
  19. ^ "Wills archive: Millions of documents available online". BBC News. 27 December 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2021.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Stanley Evans
Member of Parliament for Wednesbury
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
William Wells
Member of Parliament for Walsall North
Succeeded by
Robin Hodgson
Political offices
Preceded by
Roy Mason
Postmaster General
Position abolished

Other Languages