North Devon MP Nick Harvey recalls the ‘wise old head’ who helped a ‘rookie candidate’ to election victory.

Nick Harvey presents a picture to Jeremy Thorpe in later years, while his late wife Marion Thorpe looks on. Picture: submittedNick Harvey presents a picture to Jeremy Thorpe in later years, while his late wife Marion Thorpe looks on. Picture: submitted

Former North Devon MP Jeremy Thorpe’s legacy included the district hospital, preserving Lundy for future generations and probably the reason its current MP is in politics.

Nick Harvey was among those paying tribute to the one-time political giant and Liberal Party leader, whose death aged 85 was announced on Thursday following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Mr Thorpe served as MP from 1959-79 and later mentored Mr Harvey when as a new candidate he stood for election in 1992.

“I was incredibly lucky to have wise counsel from someone who had been through it all themselves,” said Mr Harvey.

“At a local level he was very much a wise old head giving advice to a young rookie candidate.”

In fact, Mr Thorpe is probably the reason Mr Harvey is in politics at all – he met Mr Harvey’s sister in the mid-1970s while he was still Liberal leader and she got her brother involved in the party.

Mr Thorpe’s own political career came to an end amid scandal in 1979 when he went on trial for charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder – but he was cleared of all charges.

He maintained strong links with North Devon and divided his time between London and his cottage at Cobbaton, which he visited for the final time in August this year.

‘Community champion’

“In North Devon he was a greatly loved champion of the community and is remembered with huge affection to this day,” said Mr Harvey.

“It would be wrong to recall only the tragedy of his downfall - where in hindsight he can be seen largely as a casualty of the era in which he lived.

“He was instrumental in getting a district hospital here. It was very much his campaign and I suppose it was probably his biggest single legacy.

“He also saved Lundy for the nation when it was going to be bought by an overseas developer.”

He said Mr Thorpe was also instrumental in getting the proposed North Devon Link Road on to the highways programme – and in those days, prior to a change of government, it was intended as a dual carriageway from Tiverton to Bideford.

Funeral

Jeremy Thorpe’s funeral is on Wednesday, December 17 at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, from 12.30pm.

Proceeds from the funeral between the Caroline Thorpe Ward at NDDH and Parkinson’s UK.

Dr Alison Diamond, chief executive of Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “We were very saddened to learn of the death of Jeremy Thorpe and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.

“Mr Thorpe and his family have been strong supporters of NDDH before and after it was officially opened in 1979, visiting the hospital on a number of occasions.

“Caroline Thorpe Ward was named in memory of Mr Thorpe’s first wife, Caroline, and has provided high-quality care for North Devon children and their families for the past 35 years.

“We are very grateful for the excellent fundraising support of the Thorpe family, who have donated a variety of equipment to the ward over the years for the benefit of our young patients.”