Jeremy Thorpe ‘hit-man might not be dead’, police admit

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Media captionNorman Scott: “There is obviously a lot of skulduggery that’s gone on”

A probe into a scandal involving former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe will be reopened after police may have wrongly assumed one of the suspects was dead.

A 2015 investigation into the alleged attempted murder of his lover – Norman Scott – was closed in 2017.

Gwent Police assumed Andrew Newton – who shot Mr Scott’s dog and claimed he was paid to kill Mr Scott – had died. But they now say he may still be alive.

Jeremy Thorpe ‘hit-man might not be dead’, police admit
Jeremy Thorpe ‘hit-man might not be dead’, police admit

Mr Scott said he thought police were “continuing the cover up”.

The revelations have been unearthed in the BBC Four documentary The Jeremy Thorpe Scandal.

BBC Panorama journalist Tom Mangold, who has investigated the case since the 1970s, said the investigation had ended because police claimed Newton was dead.

Mr Mangold said it “must start again” and he “wouldn’t be surprised at all” if Newton was alive, adding: “When I knew Newton he was a fit, young man.”

What was the Jeremy Thorpe scandal?

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Media captionA look at the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, the focus of a new BBC drama with Hugh Grant
  • Jeremy Thorpe was the MP for North Devon for 20 years, and leader of the Liberal Party between 1967-76. He died in 2014
  • In late 1960 or early 1961 he met Norman Scott, who worked for one of Mr Thorpe’s friends in Oxfordshire. Mr Scott said the two were lovers, at a time when homosexuality was illegal
  • Mr Scott spent years attempting to reveal the pair’s relationship to the public, then claimed Mr Thorpe conspired with colleagues to have him assassinated
  • In 1975, Andrew Newton shot Mr Scott’s Great Dane, Rinka, on a rural road in Exmoor, but failed to kill Mr Scott after his gun jammed
  • Newspapers began reporting Mr Scott’s claims after he spoke about the relationship in court, meaning they were protected from libel laws
  • Mr Thorpe resigned as leader of the Liberal Party in 1976 over the reports, but denied Mr Scott’s allegations. He lost his seat in North Devon in 1979
  • Mr Thorpe, along with three co-defendants, stood trial. Ex-Liberal MP Peter Bessell, and the failed assassin Newton, gave details of the alleged plot. A jury acquitted all four in 1979

Claims that police altered the evidence of another person being hired to kill Mr Scott before Newton, a small-time air pilot, were unearthed by Mr Mangold in 2014, the year Mr Thorpe died.

Dennis Meighan said he was approached by associates of Mr Thorpe, and Newton, to carry out the murder.

This led to Gwent Police reopening the investigation, but after they concluded Newton was dead, the Crown Prosecution Service told Mr Scott no further action would be taken.

  • A Very ‘bone-chilling’ English Scandal
  • Hugh Grant, politics and a murdered dog
  • Revealed: Letter that silenced Thorpe

Mr Scott, 78, said: “I just don’t think anyone’s tried hard enough to look for him. I really don’t.

“I thought [Gwent Police] were doing something at last and soon found out that absolutely they weren’t, they were continuing the cover up as far as I can see.”

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Image caption Jeremy Thorpe, a former leader of the Liberal Party, was acquitted of conspiracy to murder his ex-lover in 1979

Gwent Police said after revisiting some enquiries, investigators “identified information, which indicates that Newton may still be alive”.

“As a result, further enquiries will be conducted to trace Newton to assess if he is able to assist the investigation.”

The programme includes unearthed footage from a Panorama programme from 1979 that was never broadcast for legal reasons, after Mr Thorpe and his three co-defendants were acquitted of conspiracy to murder.

The director general at the time kept a master copy of the programme but ordered all other copies to be destroyed. But veteran reporter Tom Mangold kept his copy of the report.

Image caption Ben Whishaw (background) and Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal

The programme will air after the end of the dramatisation A Very British Scandal, which stars Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe and Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott.

The Jeremy Thorpe Scandal will be broadcast on Sunday at 22:00 BST.

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