Poor Stephen

James Fox

  • An Affair of State: The Profumo Case and the Framing of Stephen Ward by Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy
    Cape, 268 pp, £12.95, May 1987, ISBN 0 224 02347 0
  • Honeytrap: The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril
    Weidenfeld, 264 pp, £12.95, May 1987, ISBN 0 297 79122 2

In a recent letter to the Times, Lords Hailsham, Drogheda, Carrington, Goodman and Weinstock, and Messrs Roy Jenkins and James Prior, said they felt it was a good time, in view of the new publicity about the Ward case, to place on record their sense of admiration for the dignity and courage displayed by Mr and Mrs John Profumo and their family in the quarter-century since the episode occurred. ‘This letter,’ they continued, ‘also records our feelings that it is now appropriate to consign the episode to history.’ It was an odd letter and I would be surprised if Lord Goodman had drafted it, even though it comes from his office. (It was Hailsham who said in June 1963: ‘A great party is not to be brought down by a woman of easy virtue and a proved liar.’ Something of a sting at the time.) The idea conveyed is that history is an oubliette down which you can throw episodes you would rather have forgotten. But the Profumo case, which should be called the Stephen Ward case, will not go down. The longer it is around, the uglier it gets. It is a shocking story, which will continue to discredit its participants, all the more so for as long as they pretend, like Lord Denning, that there was no injustice perpetrated against Stephen Ward, or say that these new revelations are ‘invented’. No doubt to Ward’s posthumous amusement, Denning is currently reported to be arguing for libel protection for the dead.

The noble Lord Goodman, who is also Profumo’s adviser, has spoken out and has called Ward the historic victim of a historic injustice, and has said that the judge behaved in a way ‘that rivalled Judge Jeffreys’. I agree with his sentiments about the Profumos, but compared to Ward’s witchhunters, Profumo is an almost blameless character in the story, and I wonder why he needs such powerful gestures of support. He lied in the House of Commons and resigned. He must have got over it, or got used to it by now. There is nothing too bad about his present position. His marriage is flourishing. He has had a distinguished, although thwarted career since 1963; he’s made a few million in the City; he has successful children, he was awarded the CBE, and to his class he has become a martyred hero, a reverse scapegoat, surrounded with friends and support.

The real scandal was not what Profumo did – having had the affair with Christine Keeler, he judged that he could lie his way out of it, and had it not been for her greed and scattiness, he might have done so – but how Stephen Ward was framed. Both of these books give a powerful description of the swift workings of the Establishment in the last days of Macmillan, defending itself with chilling brutality from scandal, finding their scapegoat, bending the law and suborning witnesses to prosecute him. The trial, as Goodman has said, ‘was an injustice which took place in full view of everybody, clear to the world at large’.

So why don’t most of us know about it? Mostly because the story sank like a stone after Stephen Ward’s death. There had been too much blood. Fleet Street had behaved pretty disgracefully, and wanted no more of it. Only reporters who had attended the trial, and members of the judiciary, knew the extent of it. Ludovic Kennedy’s book The Trial of Stephen Ward came out the following year and expressed their indignation. But there was a lot that Kennedy and others didn’t know. Phillip Knightley, who wrote an excellent book about war reporting, The First Casualty, records his reluctance to drag up ‘Profumo’ until he saw the material his colleague, Caroline Kennedy, had acquired while working for a Zenith Productions film. It now became ‘Ward’. Knightley provided the MI5 background which is a major part of the new revelations in both these books.

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