In 1964, The Sunday Mirror printed allegations about a ‘homosexual relationship’ between ‘a prominent peer’ and ‘a leading thug in the London underworld’. They were alleged to have attended parties in Mayfair and Brighton which were also attended by clergymen and lawyers.
Although he wasn’t named in the original article, or in any of the subsequent Daily Mirror articles, Lord Boothby wrote to the Times to say he had returned from his holiday to find London ‘seething with rumours’ about him.
This led to ‘an unqualified apology’ on the front page of the Sunday Mirror, and an announcement that IPC ,the publishers of both the Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mirror, had agreed to pay Lord Boothby £40,000 as compensation. £40,000 was a colossal sum in 1964, equivalent to around £1 million today.
This resulted in Boothby’s private affairs being kept out of the newspapers for the rest of his life. The un-named ‘gangster’ was Ronnie Kray, and the scandal also resulted in the Kray twins’ protection racket going un-investigated for another 5 years.
There are obvious parallels with another recent British scandal, which resulted in a Lord (who also wasn’t named) receiving, with astonishing speed, a huge sum of money and a public apology. Would an ordinary member of the public have received the same treatment if they were wrongly accused?
Another consequence of the Lord Boothby scandal was a change in government policy on prosecuting adult men for homosexual practices. This announcement came just 4 days after the scandal broke in the Sunday Mirror. Although the Conservatives had several times voted against legalising homosexuality, they suddenly changed their tune when Establishment figures became the target of blackmailers. They hadn’t given a second thought to ordinary gay men previously, but it suddenly became a pressing issue, although the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Norman Skelhorn, denied that the issues were linked.
It’s also rumoured that young boys were sexually abused at the parties attended by Lord Boothby, clergymen and lawyers, and that a Labour MP called Tom Driberg was also in attendance. After the huge payout to Boothby, the British press would have been too scared to go anywhere near this story. Similarly, in 2013 the British press are too scared to report on Elm Guest House in case any prominent people are identified and then sue for damages.
Please also read this Independent article, The PM, the peer, and the gay gangster
For more information on how the British Establishment looks after its own, read The Dirt Book: How the sexual abuse of children is used for political gain
Sunday Mirror, July 12 1964