Tuesday 31 March 2020


A couple or so years ago, I dimly remember hearing the news that Stephen Ward's conviction in 1963 would not be sent to the Court of Appeal for review. I thought little more about the matter. But now I care deeply. My eyes have been opened.


Before, I explain why all this still matters, here's the online account by Ruth Quinn, dated Saturday 9 September 2017, of the refusal not to allow an appeal for Stephen Ward's conviction.

'Case of Profumo affair's 'pimp' will not go to court of appeal

This article is more than 2 years old
Stephen Ward’s 1963 conviction will not be reviewed because original transcript of judge’s summing up cannot be found

June 1963 - Stephen Ward (third from left, still managing a smile) - leaving a hearing at Marylebone magistrates court bound for Brixton prison on remand.

Stephen Ward, the society fixer at the centre of the Profumo affair, will not have his conviction reviewed by the court of appeal.

The Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) told Ward’s family on Friday that it would not be sending the osteopath’s 1963 conviction for appeal as it could not find an original transcript of the judge’s summing up.
The CCRC said on Friday that its investigation found no evidence that
the prosecution was politically motivated. But it accepted that if Ward were still alive it could have “been minded to refer the case to the court of appeal”.

In a letter to Michael Ward, Stephen’s nephew, the CCRC said prejudicial reporting, flawed direction from the judge and Christine Keeler’s previous perjury could render the conviction unsafe.
The Ward family maintains that the judge’s summing up was biased and prejudiced the jury.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing the family, said: “The Ward trial was an appalling manipulation of justice by police, politicians and judges caught up in a moral panic. It is mysterious – suspicious, almost – that every copy of the transcript of the wretchedly biased summing up has gone missing. 
“I’m glad the CCRC accepts that the verdict would probably be quashed today. But I do not accept its argument that over the 54 years since Dr Ward’s trial there have been significant improvements in police and media practice – just look at the witch-hunt against Ted Heath and Lord Bramall, after the recent moral panic over Jimmy Saville.
“Incredibly, the government still maintains this censorship over historical truth, about a prosecution that was really a persecution.”
Ward was convicted of being a pimp after it emerged that he had introduced Keeler, a model, to John Profumo, then minister for war, at a party in the grounds of Lord Astor’s Berkshire mansion at the height of the cold war.

Stephen Ward in 1961 at Cliveden - the home of Lord Astor - by the pool with (from left to right) Mandy Rice Davies, Paula Hamilton-Marshall and Christine Keeler.

Keeler had also been involved with a Russian naval attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov, and the revelation that one of the most senior ministers in the government had almost compromised state secrets for the sake of an affair threatened to topple Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.
Profumo had been warned off Ward’s circle by spies who knew of Soviet links to the socialite’s set. But when Keeler’s love life came to light all eyes turned to Ward as the link between the model, the minister and the Soviet.
He was tried on a charge of living off the earnings of prostitution, and after the judge’s summing up he took his own life before a guilty verdict was handed down.
Ward’s family insists he was a scapegoat for an establishment keen to deflect media attention from the failings of its own ministers.
A CCRC spokesman said: “In relation to the submissions that the trial was politically motivated and therefore an abuse of process, and that the court of appeal concealed relevant information, the CCRC has concluded that, in spite of having gone to considerable lengths to access all surviving relevant material, the available records provide no evidence to support those claims. Those submissions therefore do not give rise to a real possibility that the court of appeal would overturn Dr Ward’s conviction.
“During the course of the review, however, the CCRC did identify considerable merit in a number of other issues which might, arguably, provide grounds upon which we could refer the case for appeal.
“The principal issues in that regard were the subsequent conviction for perjury of the prosecution witness Christine Keeler and the possibility that contemporaneous media coverage of the case may have prejudiced Dr Ward’s trial. The commission agrees with Dr Ward’s representatives that there is considerable force in the argument that these matters could affect the safety of the conviction.”
However, the CCRC said it was using its discretion not to refer the case, saying there was no public interest after 54 years and it could bring no personal benefit to Ward so long after he had died.'

Geoffrey Robertson (2013)  - the case for overturning his conviction 

Please indulge me, and allow a trip back in time to provide some personal context:
In 1963, I was enjoying the summer months of my third year at grammar school, studying hard for the end-of-year examinations, as the Profumo scandal cast seismic waves across the nation. When Ward took his overdose, my mum delivered her verdict with a working-class Canterbury wisdom born of her descent from a family who could claim a long ancestral line of foot soldiers in the Buffs: 'He's no loss'. My mum and dad's salacious fascination with a scandal featuring stories of prostitutes and spies and lying politicians no doubt created a dilemma for them as their son grappled with puberty: 'What should we allow Robert to know about all this?' I remember being forbidden to read the News of the World newspaper which now appeared on Sundays in our small suburban semi-detached house in what is now south London.
The central women in the scandal were not much older than me - I was born in 1948. Their dates are Christine Keeler (1942-2017); Mandy Rice-Davies (1944-2014). But their lives had been a little more action-packed than mine was or perhaps would be. Their sexual attraction was obvious enough to me in 1963. In 1981, Louise and I saw Mandy Rice-Davies as an actor performing on the stage in Oxford - the Playhouse, I think - in a production of Tom Stoppard's 'Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land'. She was still sexy. And she brought the house down when she delivered her line, again with a giggle: 'Well he would, wouldn't he?'
Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler leaving the Old Bailey at the end of the first day of the trial: 22 July

 Skip forward to 2017 and as I've related, I scarcely noted that the attempt to declare Stephen Ward innocent had failed. My interest remained as it had been from the start, like my parents, too inclined to the salacious side. 
But the matter changed irrevocably for me after the premiere of Amanda Cole's six-part BBC TV series: 'The Trial of Christine Keeler' on 29 December 2019. Brilliantly written, acted, and directed, the whole production displayed the best of British talent - and clearly Stephen Ward  had been stitched up. I researched more and then bought and read Geoffrey Robertson QC's 2013 publication: 'Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK'. It had been written as a pro-bono legal opinion for submission to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). 
As Robertson wrote: 'The importance of quashing the conviction of Stephen Ward is not only to right a historic wrong, but to serve as a warning against unfair investigating and prosecuting scapegoats in order to expiate scandals which are the responsibility of others who cannot be held to account.' (2013) 
Agreed - but why shouldn't those others be held to account at the time? Doesn't the clarion-call of 'British justice' deserve nothing less? Yes. Yes. And yes again. These blog-posts are written and published with the story of the little boy telling the truth about the nakedness of the emperor always resounding in my head. 
And if we cannot nail the villains at the time, the justice system must allow matters to be put right later. It failed in 2017 for Stephen Ward; let's keep up the pressure. Historical wrongs have been identified. The truth about the Hillsborough stadium tragedy was eventually accepted. 

In memoriam

The death of David Kelly is a 21st century example of an establishment cover-up - see this link here to my 2018 blogpost on this unresolved puzzle. If British justice deserves the name, truth will out and the world will know what was being covered-up and by whom. This is not pie-in-the-sky idealism; it is what every democratic state worth its salt should consider as basic good practice. When it comes to the big picture - and there's nothing quite like living through times of plague to bring this home - these are questions of what kind of society and governance do we need in order to flourish and realise our full human potential. 

In memoriam

I'll close this blogpost with the thoughts of Francis FitzGibbon QC. Writing in the London Review of Books (5 March 2020), he identifies 'a decline in the quality of attention given by policy-makers to criminal justice'. I presume that is short-hand for Tory neoliberal indifference to the needs of the state: the criminal justice system sacrificed on the altar of Austerity. The QC continues:
'In the last three years more than 150 court buildings, those on profitable sites, have been sold off to fund other parts of the system, in the absence of proper new investment … In 2011-12, the Crown Prosecution  Service (CPS) prosecuted 895,000 cases; in 2018-19, 405,000 - a drop of 40 per cent. Over the same period the CPS's budget has been cut by 30 per cent, and it has lost 25 per cent of its staff - down to 6,000 from 8,000. The Ministry of Justice has had its budget cut by 40 per cent … the police service have endured similar cuts: they lack sufficient staff to investigate cases … The seven ministers of justice since 2010 have been variously indifferent, clueless, hostile, or have spent too short a time in office to defend the publicly funded legal system from the treasury's depredations.'
Francis FitzGibbon does acknowledge there have been some improvements in British justice - fewer advocates bully their way to victory in court; judges and juries mostly do their best to be fair; vulnerable witnesses and defendants have better protections; we do not execute people for their crimes. But - as the Stephen Ward case demonstrates -  we still have a long way to go before justice prevails


  1. And under the present government justice prevailing is hardly likely.. might some want to turn the clock back?

  2. The Home Secretary has offered the opinion in the past that there should be a return to capital punishment. And these Tory miscreants who form the nominal government of this country have a good deal of incompetence to cover up in these pandemic times. Administrative malfeasance is one legal charge waiting to be laid against the prime minister here - that's the charge brought against the prime minister of Spain by a lawyer there.