On this day in history : 7th April 1976 – Controversial MP John Stonehouse resigns from the Labour Party – causing a Parliamentary crisis, as he leaves the Government with a minority of one….

John Stonehouse – Photo credit : Andre Cros – City archives of Toulouse CC BY-SA 4.0

Prime Minister James Callaghan had been in power for just two days and was left with 315 MPs to the opposition parties’ 316…. In his resignation Stonehouse had attacked the Government, saying it was “dangerous and unrealistic”….and he called for an immediate general election…. Stonehouse himself was facing prosecution at the Old Bailey, after faking his own death….

Stonehouse’s troubles had begun in the early 1970s…. He had set up a string of companies but by 1974 most were in financial difficulty….and he had taken to ‘cooking the books’…. Desperate to find a way out, on the 20th of November 1974 he had left a pile of clothes on a Miami Beach – leading the authorities to believe he had drowned – or had even been eaten by sharks! So convincing was his stunt that a minute’s silence was held for him in the House of Commons….

In reality Stonehouse was actually in Australia setting up a new life with a fake identity and his mistress – his secretary Sheila Buckley…. The police eventually caught up with him in Melbourne on the 24th of December 1974…. He was deported back to Britain six months later….and was remanded in Brixton Prison – but released on bail in August 1975…. Although they were not comfortable with the circumstances Labour had not expelled him from the Party and he continued to serve as an MP…. However, at a meeting of the Party at his constituency of Walsall North, a committee had voted 47-1 to ask him to resign…. When he did eventually resign in April 1976 he lashed out at the Labour Party, accusing his constituency of prejudging him….

Stonehouse’s trial began on the 27th of April – he faced 18 charges of theft, forgery, attempted insurance frauds and conspiracy…. Sheila Buckley also faced charges…. After 68 days he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years imprisonment…. Buckley received two years, suspended for two years….

In 1979 Stonehouse was released on health grounds and in 1981 he married Sheila Buckley…. He was to die of a heart attack in 1988…. As for Jim Callaghan – he managed to cling on to power – with the 1977 Lib-Lab pact….finally losing the 1979 general election to Margaret Thatcher….

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