As the final episode of A Very English Scandal airs on Sunday, we look back on the Gazette’s coverage of the Jeremy Thorpe murder trial.
“The higher Jeremy Thorpe climbed the political ladder, the greater was the threat to his ambitions from Norman Scott, who alleged a homosexual relationship with him, Mr Peter Taylor, QC, told an Old Bailey jury when he opened the Crown’s case against the former Liberal leader and three other men on Tuesday.”
That was the opening line of the Gazette’s coverage of the trial of Jeremy Thorpe on charges of conspiracy to murder in May 1979.
Mr Thorpe was tried and acquitted of trying to have his alleged former lover, Norman Scott, killed by a hitman on Exmoor after he threatened to out their relationship.
The Gazette covered the Old Bailey trial for its North Devon readers, in these cuttings found by the Bideford and District Archive.
The articles describe how the oak-panelled, number one courtroom was ‘crowded to capacity’, mostly with press, with 26 members of the public watching.
“Thorpe walked quietly into the dock to sit nearest the Jury box,” reads the cutting of the opening of the trial.
“Thorpe and his three co-defendants – Liberal Party former deputy treasurer, David Holmes, club owner George Deakin and company director John Le Mesurier – remained expressionless as they listened to the charges.
“All answered ‘not guilty’ in firm voices as they were accused of plotting to murder former male model Norman Scott and there was no alteration in Thorpe’s tone as he again answered ‘not guilty’ when further charged with inciting Holmes to murder Scott.”
Coverage of the trial included Scott admitting in a three-hour cross examination he had ‘told many lies’, but he had not lied about his relationship with Thorpe – a relationship the former North Devon MP denied.
There were also ‘bombshell’ allegations from the Crown’s major witness Peter Bessell on day nine, who said Thorpe had proposed the murder of a man named Hetherington as well.
The final cutting unearthed by the Archives shows the jury was still out after more than six hours of deliberation on the Gazette’s press day.
“It was day number 30 in a trial which it has been estimated has incurred legal fees amounting to more than £100,000,” it read.
The article said the jury was told to take as much time as they want, and the judge, Mr Justice Cantley, hailed it as a ‘bizarre and surprising case’.
Although no cuttings of the final verdict were found, Thorpe was acquitted of conspiracy to murder Norman Scott.
The final episode of A Very English Scandal airs on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday, June 3.