How a Kennedy stopped a major UK gay sex scandal

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How a Kennedy stopped a major UK gay sex scandal

RFK neatly curtailed a potentially damaging disclosure at a time homosexuality was illegal in the UK

Anita Singh


Robert Kennedy intervened to suppress revelations about Jeremy Thorpe’s sexuality to save the British establishment from scandal, according to a previously unseen memo.
Kennedy was US attorney-general in 1963 when the FBI came into possession of a passionate letter from Thorpe to an American man known as “Bruno”.
Thorpe, then a rising star of the UK’s Liberal Party, was clearly besotted and wrote: “If I’m ever driven out of public life in Britain for a gay scandal then I shall settle in San Francisco,” the city where the two men had met.
It was a prescient remark, as in 1979 Thorpe was accused of conspiracy to murder his former lover in what was dubbed “the trial of the century”. He was acquitted, but his career was destroyed.
When the letter came to light in 1963, Britain was in the grip of the Profumo affair. At the time, homosexuality was illegal in Britain.
An FBI memo, obtained along with the letter by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request, reads: “The attorney-general said he learned of this letter during a visit to New York last week. The letter makes reference to a possible homosexual relationship between [redacted] and Jeremy Thorpe. The letter was written by Thorpe and bore a return address of the House of Commons, London.
“The attorney-general stated that he wanted to inform [redacted] of this matter on a personal basis ‘as the British can’t afford another disclosure of this kind’.”
It added that Kennedy had verified that Thorpe was an MP, although it wrongly identified him as a member of the Labour Party.
Fourteen years later, Thorpe stood trial for conspiracy to murder his former lover, Norman Scott, a young riding instructor with whom he had conducted a secret relationship when homosexuality remained illegal.
A gunman had lured Scott to the moors and shot dead his great dane, Rinka, in October 1975.
The Old Bailey heard that Thorpe, concerned that the relationship would be made public, had allegedly told a fellow Liberal MP: “We’ve got to get rid of him ... it is no worse than shooting a sick dog.”
The prosecution had a copy of the letter, and it has been speculated that Thorpe’s decision not to take the stand was because he did not wish to be cross-examined about its contents.
The letter was dated April 1961 and was seized two years later when “Bruno”, whose full name has been redacted by the FBI, was arrested in New York for breaking the terms of a probation order earlier received for theft.
In the letter, Thorpe writes: “It was an unkind stroke of fate that we should only have met at the very end of my stay in San Francisco ... I don’t know how you feel, but although we only met so briefly, I miss you desperately.”
He said: “How I adored San Francisco ... the one city where a gay person can let down his defences and feel free and unhunted.”
After offering to use his contacts to help Bruno find a job, he said: “Somehow we must meet again, either I must get on to San Francisco on some mission, which the British or American taxpayer will pay for!! – or one summer we must get you to Europe for a really good holiday.”
He asked Bruno to write to him at his home or at the House of Commons, but warned that “the latter should be marked personal!”
Thorpe also requested a photograph and enclosed one of himself, explaining: “I have a spare passport one which I send along. I’m afraid it’s a bit smudged at the back. But it will remind you of my front!”
He signed off by saying: “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have met you. Yours most affectionately, Jeremy.”
It was forwarded to the director of the FBI, with the note: “At the time of the apprehension of subject, an apparent homosexual, he was in possession of a letter addressed to him by someone who appears to be connected with the English House of Commons.
“Because of the nature of the letter and the apparent position of the sender an autostat copy of it is being enclosed herewith for the information of the Bureau.”
Thorpe died in 2014, aged 85.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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