A recent three-part drama on ITV told the astonishing story of MP John Stonehouse, a former minister of the Harold Wilson cabinet. The viewing figures were extremely high for the programme starring Matthew Macfadyen, but what many residents of the Andover area may not be aware of is that Stonehouse had close links with the town, residing in Picket Piece.
His career was shrouded in controversy and is still much debated. One thing that is of no doubt is that he faked his own death on 20th November 1974. What is still unproven is whether he was a “spy” for the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, beginning in 1960. It is an allegation the Stonehouse family strongly deny.
Stonehouse’s faked death began by taking the identity of two of his local constituents in Walsall North. He then flew to Miami under his own name before leaving his belongings on the beach to make it appear he had drowned. He was presumed dead with obituaries written, but in reality, had flown to Melbourne under one of his false identities.
Stonehouse was soon under surveillance for using two separate passports at banks in Australia. He was first suspected of being Lord Lucan who had recently disappeared, but it soon became apparent that he was the Member of Parliament that had gone missing from the east coast of the United States. He was arrested on Christmas Eve meaning his disappearance had lasted 34 days. He was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison after a 68-day trial, serving three.
Love Andover spoke to the daughter of MP Stonehouse, Julia, following the broadcasting of the programme; and she understandably remembers Christmas Eve 1974 like no other.
“We rented Faulkners Down House which we went to at the weekends, next to the farm on the Apsley Estate near Andover. On the day that my father was found there were 23 press cars parked along the road. The farm vehicles couldn’t get in and on Christmas Day the landlady said we had to leave.”
While there is no doubt her father faked his down death, Julia is far from happy with other depictions in the programme.
“Sadly, making money out of misrepresentations is their goal, it is about time these scallywags are shown for what they really are. There was no honey trap as depicted in the programme. The truth is that my father had a lonely mental breakdown from the overuse of Mandrax.”
Julia added “Me and my siblings are shown as a gaggle of young silent children. I was 24 when my father went missing, my sister was 26, we were grown-ups.”
While of course the programme opens with a statement stating “This drama is based on a true story. Some scenes and characters have been imagined for dramatic purpose,” Julia says this is of little consolation to her family.
“Nothing in that drama is true, sadly we will have to live with six million viewers thinking it’s more or less true.”
Julia has released a book entitled “John Stonehouse, My Father, the true story of the runaway MP” and encourages anyone that would like to know the truth behind the story to read this as opposed to watching the ITV drama. She also has a website where she has posted her complaints to various legal departments about misrepresentations. These include official documents from the UK and Czech and can be found at www.juliastonehouse.com.
The Stonehouses are calling for a TV trial to have the opportunity to clear the name of Mr Stonehouse regarding the ‘Communist Spy’ scandal. There is no doubt that it would be interesting viewing to see if the name of a man that lived just off the Walworth Road is found guilty or not guilty of espionage while serving as an MP. Julia is certainly in no doubt where the evidence points.
By Sean Anderson