Following Jeremy Thorpe’s death last Thursday, BBC Radio 4 yesterday broadcast for the first time an interview with the original hitman hired to murder Thorpe’s ex-lover Norman Scott.
Denis Meighan from Chiswick, South London, told the BBC’s Tom Mangold that he was approached in 1975 by representatives of a ‘Mr Big’ in the Liberal Party. (Mangold has since given further details of his 1970s investigations in a Sunday Times article.)
Meighan had travelled down to the Devon pub where Scott was then living. He intended to carry out the hit there and then, but became nervous when he realised how conspicuous he was as a strange Londoner calling at a Barnstaple pub.
Meighan therefore returned to London and gave his gun to a friend, Andrew Newton, who famously attempted to carry out the murder himself but succeeded only in shooting Scott’s dog Rinka – an incident which eventually led to the trial of Thorpe and three associates for conspiracy to murder.
Mysteriously Meighan had been written out of the story by the time this case reached the Old Bailey. He told Tom Mangold this week that he had earlier made a statement to police, confessing his role in the plot, but police then asked him to sign a revised statement.
“I read the statement, which did me no end of favours, but it did Jeremy Thorpe no end of favours as well, because it left him completely out of it.
“So I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to sign this’. It just virtually left everything out that was incriminating, but at the same time everything I said about the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, etcetera, was left out as well.”
Press reports of Thorpe’s committal hearings at Minehead Magistrates Court in November 1978 contain brief references to Meighan. Andrew Newton told the court that he had spoken to one of Thorpe’s co-accused, gaming machine operator George Deakin, at a dinner in Blackpool. Deakin had discussed having Scott “bumped off”.
In Newton’s account, Meighan only came into the story later, after Newton had further discussions with Deakin and another of the defendants, Liberal Party deputy treasurer David Holmes.
According to Newton’s testimony, he had borrowed a Mauser .32 automatic pistol from Meighan, a friend whom he had known since primary school. This account is now directly contradicted by Meighan himself, who following his interview with Mangold broadcast on Friday has now spoken to the Mail on Sunday.
Meighan now says that Newton had introduced him to an associate of Thorpe, and that he – Meighan – was the one originally contracted for the killing.
So was the lie concocted by police and fed to Meighan and Newton. If so, whom was the deception designed to protect? Thorpe himself, or another Liberal ‘Mr Big’ who had taken it on himself to clean up the mess by having Scott killed?
Though Meighan has kept silent until now, part of his original account was leaked by police or intelligence sources to Auberon Waugh, the Private Eye and Spectator columnist who covered the case from the start, and famously stood against Thorpe in his North Devon constituency at the 1979 general election as a “dog lovers'” candidate, in a mischievous reference to the deceased Rinka.
In June 1981 Waugh’s Spectator column asked several questions about the case, partly arising from a recent interview with David Holmes in the News of the World. Among his questions was:
“Why Denis Meighan, the man who sold Newton his gun, was not allowed to mention Newton’s offer of £1,000 to do the job — of murdering Scott — for him.”
Not in dispute is that the cash for the hit came from Liberal donor Sir Jack Hayward, the Bahamas-based tycoon who is still alive aged 91. Police accepted that Sir Jack had been completely unaware of the intention to kill Scott, and that he had been approached by Thorpe to donate £50,000 to a special party leader’s fund. Two instalments of £10,000 each were to be paid into a Jersey account belonging to another friend of Thorpe’s, property tycoon and philanthropist Nadir Dinshaw.
In 1978 Sir Jack successfully sued the Sunday Telegraph for libel after the paper linked him to the case: he won £50,000 damages, upheld on appeal in 1981.
Andrew Newton claimed in 1990 that nine years earlier he had been paid £50,000 by MI5 for his role in the affair, and that the money was channelled to him via a bogus Premium Bond win. The allegation was raised in the House of Commons by Labour MP Tam Dalyell but never resolved.
Though Newton’s allegation might seem incredible, it should be noted that in 1986 the British Army intelligence unit FRU arranged for its agent Brian Nelson to be paid via a bogus win on a German lottery.