When researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper I came across a book that really shocked me.
This was Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK, written by Geoffrey Robertson QC and published in 2013. It is a slim but angry look at the Profumo Scandal.
This was the 1963 hoo-hah in which Secretary of State for War John Profumo was forced to resign for lying about an affair with a young woman – Christine Keeler. His philandering had apparently also jeopardised national security because Keeler knew Soviet naval attache Yevgeny Ivanov.
Much of the publicity for tonight’s BBC One drama The Trial of Christine Keeler understandably focuses on the way 19-year-old Keeler was exploited by the authorities in their quest to destroy their chosen scapegoat for the humiliation heaped on Harold Macmillan’s government by Profumo.
The fall guy was osteopath Stephen Ward, friend of Keeler and link between her, Profumo and Ivanov. This is where Robertson’s book is such an eye-opener.
Using his legal expertise he looks at how Keeler was portrayed as a prostitute during the court process – she and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were no such thing – in order to frame Ward as a pimp living off immoral earnings from their activities.
Ward was found guilty but committed suicide before he could be sentenced. Keeler and Rice-Davies had notoriety heaped on them during a court trial that exposed in full the era’s hypocrisies and the vengeance which the Establishment could direct at anyone it deemed worthy to pick on.
Sophie Cookson is excellent as Keeler in the BBC series. She is shown as being both cynical and naive, while James Norton plays the most tragic figure in the whole appalling affair, Stephen Ward.
It may look like a period piece now, but the reason I’m looking forward to seeing the drama is that it is a reminder of how the powerful can always crush the lives of ordinary people it sees as a threat.
And Geoffrey Robertson’s book shows how they subverted due legal process when they needed to.