This week, a new ITV drama series based on real events told the strange story of John Stonehouse.
Stonehouse is a movie about the rise and fall of a Labour MP who tried to fake his own death in 1974. It stars Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes.
Here are the amazing real-life events that inspired the show, including what we know about the long-standing rumors that Stonehouse was a spy for Czechoslovakia.
Who Was John Stonehouse?
John Stonehouse was born in 1925. He was involved in the cooperative movement and fought against colonialism for a long time before becoming a Labour MP in 1957.
He was once thought to be the next prime minister, but instead, he became the minister of aviation, the last postmaster general and a privy counselor who advises the Queen.
On November 20, 1974, he rolled up his clothes and left them on a beach in Miami so he could go swimming. He then disappeared. People thought he had killed himself, and his wife said, “All the evidence we have points to the fact that he drowned.”
Stonehouse was arrested in Australia just over a month after he went missing. At first, the police thought he was Lord Lucan, an aristocrat who had gone missing 12 days before Stonehouse.
Stonehouse was 49 years old at the time. He had a lot of debt and was hooked on prescription drugs. He had stolen the identity of a dead constituent, Joseph Markham, to get a passport in his name and start a new life in Melbourne. He was inspired to do this by Frederick Forsyth’s thriller The Day of the Jackal.
Six months later, the MP was sent back to the UK. He was held at Brixton Prison until he was freed, at which point he went back to work as a member of Walsall North.
Stonehouse was then put on trial for 68 days. He made the longest dock statement in British history, which lasted six days. Because of this, the ancient right was later taken away.
In August 1976, he was found guilty of several counts of theft, fraud, and lying, and he was given a sentence of seven years in prison, of which he served three.
When he finally quit Parliament, it led to a by-election that the Conservatives won, which put more pressure on the Labour government, which was already struggling.
Several heart attacks and open-heart surgery happened to him while he was in prison.
Stonehouse got out of prison in 1979 and married his mistress, Sheila Buckley, two years later. The following year, their son was born.
In 1988, at age 62, he died from his last heart attack. Only one of the people he used to work with in the legislature went to his funeral.
Was John Stonehouse A Spy?
Josef Frolk, who used to work for the Czech secret services but left in 1969, said that Stonehouse was a spy for Czechoslovakia. After the MP made several trips to the country, which was then part of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, the claim was made, but he defended himself and kept his job.
But Professor Christopher Andrew writes in defense of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 that Stonehouse is “the only British politician known to have worked as a foreign agent while holding ministerial office.”
In 2010, secret government papers showed that Sir Michael Havers, Margaret Thatcher’s attorney general in 1980, said the same thing again.
He told the prime minister at the time that he was sure Mr. Stonehouse was a spy for the Czechoslovaks, but he didn’t have any proof to show the jury. Sir Michael also said that if Stonehouse was confronted, “it was likely that he would make a big deal out of it and say that the government was after him.”
He said that they should let the matter go because the Czech defector had not given any proof to back up his claim.
Julia Stonehouse says that the rumor was spread to the press and politicians by “right-wing elements within MI5.” She told me last year that she didn’t understand why people believed what Frolk and his coworkers said. “These were some of the most dangerous people in the world. They were sneaky killers,” she said.
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