Sunday, July 31, 2016
Book Review: A Very British Scandal by John Preston
Penguin Books, 2016
John Preston breathes new life into the familiar story of how Jeremy Thorpe came to be tried for conspiracy to murder at the Old Bailey by making Peter Bessell his hero.
Bessell was Liberal MP for Bodmin between 1964 and 1970, as well as being a lay preacher and a dodgy businessman. He was a loyal friend to Thorpe, yet became the chief prosecution witness in the Liberal leader’s trial.
This was because he had already found what David Holmes, the best man at Thorpe’s first wedding and one of his co-accused in the dock of the Old Bailey, was to find during the trial: Thorpe would drop any friend in it if he thought it would save his own skin.
Preston is in little doubt that Thorpe was guilty as charged. Most readers will share that view when they have finished his entertaining and engrossing book.
In the course of it he confirms a favourite story from the affair: Andrew Newton, who shot Norman Scott’s dog Rinka and seems to have tried to shoot Scott himself, first went to look for his victim in Dunstable, only to discover that he should have gone to Barnstaple.
Preston also reminds us that Scott’s wife’s sister was married to the comic actor Terry-Thomas.
There is, however, no mention of the fact that another of Thorpe’s fellow defendants, George Deakin, was the uncle of the guitarist in Black Lace of ‘Agadoo’ fame.