David Blackburn

MI6, insider dealing and robbery: it’s another Harold Wilson conspiracy theory

MI6, insider dealing and robbery: it's another Harold Wilson conspiracy theory
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The timing of Harold Wilson’s resignation on March 16 1976 is an enduring mystery and conspiracy theories abound. Had the onset of Alzheimer’s unnerved him? Was he about to be denounced as a Soviet spy? There’s even a preposterous suggestion that Lord Mountbatten gave up his regular lunches with Barbara Cartland to plan a military coup against Wilson. The eminent lawyer, Sir Desmond de Silva, adds a further theory in today’s Times: stolen documents proving that Wilson was involved in insider trading were for sale to continental magazines, and that might have forced Wilson out. Sir Desmond, who later defended one of the alleged thieves, said:

“I had known nothing about this burglary. Apparently it was discovered by Wilson’s private secretary,” Sir Desmond said. Referring to notes that he had made at the time, he told The Times: “Maurice (Sir Maurice Oldfield, Chief of MI6) told me that the papers stolen from the offices were now being offered for sale to German and Dutch magazines. He then joked that he expected I would be representing one of the culprits in due course.

“I was instructed to defend the first accused at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court on April 21, 1976. This gave me an opportunity during the committal proceedings to refer in open court to any of the contents contained in the boxes of material recovered by police...There was nothing sinister in the papers I saw, nothing you could say related to national security, but I saw this letter from Eric Miller [a property developer] to Harold Wilson, advising the sale of Peachey Property shares by the holder.”

Eric Miller received a knighthood in Wilson’s retirement honours list, which was controversial because there were question marks over his financial dealings. In 1977, it became clear that Miller had long had his hand in Peachey’s till and he was served with writs.Sir Desmond did not disclose the contents of letter at the time. But he believes that had it come to light at the height of a recession and industrial strife, it could have been potentially explosive. Sir Desmond’s claims prove Wilson was involved in some dodgy dealing - a novelty for this saga, which has thrived on Wilson’s paranoia and unsubstantiated rumours, such as Peter Wright’s allegations in Spycatcher. The timing between the theft, his resignation and the trial is neat. Most conspiracy theories, such as those about Jackie Kennedy ‘marrying’ Aristotle Onassis because JFK was in hiding on a Greek island, are absurd. This one seems almost plausible.