Colin Coote

Colin Coote

Colin Reith Coote was born on 19th October, 1893. He served in the British Army during the First World War.

After completing his degree at Balliol College, Oxford University, where he met Harold Macmillan, he was employed by The Times. In the 1920s and 1930s he was based in Rome. According to recently released documents, Coote was also part of a spy network established by Desmond Morton of MI6.

During the Second World War Coote headed the Public Relations department at the War Office. In 1942 he joined the Daily Telegraph and in 1950 became editor of the newspaper.

Colin Coote had suffered from lumbago for many years and on the recommendation of Godfrey Nicholson, the MP for Farnham, he went to see Stephen Ward. As he later recalled: "To my complete astonishment the pain was tamed and then expelled." The two men became close friends and started playing bridge together at the Connaught Bridge Club in Edgeware Road. Ward was also a regular visitor to Coote's home.

Coote commissioned Stephen Ward to sketch pictures of participants in the trial of Adolf Eichmann. According to the authors of An Affair of State (1987): "Ward duly went to Israel and a series of his drawings appeared in the newspaper. Coote got many complimentary letters about the drawings and decided that when there was another opportunity to use Ward he would do so."

Coote suggested that Stephen Ward should go to the Soviet Union to sketch the leading politicians of the country. However, Ward had difficulty getting a visa from the Soviet Embassy in London. Ward told Coote about his problems and on 21st January 1961, Coote invited Ward to have lunch at the Garrick Club with Eugene Ivanov, an naval attaché at the embassy. Coote later recalled: "I remembered Stephen Ward's difficulty about a visa and thought that this link might be useful." David Floyd, the Daily Telegraph's correspondent on Soviet affairs, also attended the lunch. Ward was impressed with Ivanov's ability to discuss foreign affairs: "I listened with fascination as they argued backward and forward on issues which I had never heard discussed before in an intelligent and informal manner."

Coote, Ward and Ivanov became close friends. As Philip Knightley pointed out: "As Ward's friendship with Ivanov blossomed, the original purpose for meeting him - to get a visa to go and sketch Soviet leaders - appears to have been forgotten. The two men met often and went everywhere together. Ivanov would call at Ward's flat unannounced and the two of them would go out - either to visit a club, to play bridge, or to dine with one of Ward's friends."

Anthony Summers argues that: "MI5's D branch, responsible for counter-espionage, quickly identified Ivanov as a Soviet Intelligence officer using diplomatic cover, a common practice worldwide. According to one source, part of Ivanov's mission may have been to supervise Soviet penetration of the Portland naval base in Dorset."

Ward later introduced Eugene Ivanov to Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Keeler described how Ivanov upset Stephen Ward when he arrived at the Cliveden Estate unannounced. "Stephen was furious with him: he looked so out of place. With his dark suit, he looked like a caricature of a Russian spook, a Soviet spy.... He wanted to buttonhole Stephen but Stephen wasn't having any of it. I saw then so clearly who was the boss. Stephen ordered Eugene to go - and he went. Quickly."

Coote remained in contact with the British intelligence services and was a close friend and golfing partner of Roger Hollis, the Director-General of MI5. In 1962 Coote was given a knighthood.

On 5th June, 1963 John Profumo resigned as War Minister. His statement said that he had lied to the House of Commons about his relationship with Christine Keeler. The next day the Daily Mirror said: "What the hell is going on in this country? All power corrupts and the Tories have been in power for nearly twelve years."

Harold Macmillan now wrote to Coote about the Profumo Scandal: "I think I ought to let you know that in my speech (to the House of Commons) I shall refer to the fact that as it happened Captain Ivanov was first introduced to Mr. Ward by you. I shall say expressly that there was nothing whatever unusual or reprehensible in this introduction. It is only that it forms part of my narrative."

Some newspapers called for Harold Macmillan to resign as prime minister. This he refused to do but he did ask Lord Denning to investigate the security aspects of the Profumo affair. Some of the prostitutes who worked for Stephen Ward began to sell their stories to the national press. Mandy Rice-Davies told the Daily Sketch that Christine Keeler had sexual relationships with John Profumo and Eugene Ivanov, an naval attaché at the Soviet embassy.

On 7th June, Christine Keeler told the Daily Express of her secret "dates" with Profumo. She also admitted that she had been seeing Eugene Ivanov at the same time, sometimes on the same day, as Profumo. In a television interview Stephen Ward told Desmond Wilcox that he had warned the security services about Keeler's relationship with Profumo. The following day Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings between 1961 and 1963. He was initially refused bail because it was feared that he might try to influence witnesses. Another concern was that he might provide information on the case to the media.

On 14th June, the London solicitor, Michael Eddowes, claimed that Christine Keeler told him that Eugene Ivanov had asked her to get information about nuclear weapons from John Profumo. Eddowes added that he had written to Harold Macmillan to ask why no action had been taken on information he had given to Special Branch about this on 29th March. Soon afterwards Keeler told the News of the World that "I'm no spy, I just couldn't ask Jack for secrets."

Soon afterwards Colin Coote had a meeting with several men, including Godfrey Nicholson, the 3rd Earl of Dudley, Gilbert Laithwaite, Vasco Lazzolo and Ward's legal adviser, Billy Rees-Davies, who told them that he had spoken to Lord Astor who had decided not to give evidence in the forthcoming trial. Rees-Davies warned the men that "this was going to be a very dirty case."

On 7th July, 1963, Colin Coote's Daily Telegraph revealed that a key Soviet defector and one of the CIA's most prized assets, was in Britain. As a result of the story, Anatoli Golitsin was immediately flown back to the United States.

Ward told his defence counsel, James Burge: "One of my great perils is that at least half a dozen of the (witnesses) are lying and their motives vary from malice to cupidity and fear... In the case of both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies there is absolutely no doubt that they are committed to stories which are already sold or could be sold to newspapers and that my conviction would free these newspapers to print stories which they would otherwise be quite unable to print (for libel reasons)."

Stephen Ward was very upset by the judge's summing-up that included the following: "If Stephen Ward was telling the truth in the witness box, there are in this city many witnesses of high estate and low who could have come and testified in support of his evidence." Several people present in the court claimed that Judge Archie Pellow Marshall was clearly biased against Ward. France Soir reported: "However impartial he tried to appear, Judge Marshall was betrayed by his voice."

After the day's court proceedings, Ward contacted Tom Critchley, a Home Office official working with Lord Denning on the official investigation. Later, Critchley refused to comment what was said in that telephone conversation.

That night Ward wrote to his friend, Noel Howard-Jones: "It is really more than I can stand - the horror, day after day at the court and in the streets. It is not only fear, it is a wish not to let them get me. I would rather get myself. I do hope I have not let people down too much. I tried to do my stuff but after Marshall's summing-up, I've given up all hope." Ward then took an overdose of sleeping tablets. He was in a coma when the jury reached their verdict of guilty of the charge of living on the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies on Wednesday 31st July. Three days later, Ward died in St Stephen's Hospital.

Colin Coote was completely exonerated by Lord Denning for his role in the Profumo Scandal. In fact, Denning went out of his way not to name Coote in his report: "Stephen Ward often expressed a wish to go to Moscow. He wanted to draw pictures of the personalities there, particularly Mr. Khruschchev. He told this to the Editor of a newspaper who was a patient of his. The Editor happened to have met Captain Ivanov: and invited Stephen Ward to lunch and meet him. This was on 20th January, 1961. Stephen Ward took an immediate liking to Captain Ivanov. He began to enlist Ivanov's help to arrange sittings with Mr. Khrushchev. The Security Service got to know of their friendship and on 8th June, 1961, saw Stephen Ward about it. A few weeks later came the Cliveden weekend."

In April 1964 Colin Coote left his post as editor of the Daily Telegraph. Soon afterwards he was involved in another scandal. Later that year he was on holiday with Lord Boothby when on 12 July 1964, the Sunday Mirror published a front page lead story under the headline: "Peer and a gangster: Yard probe." The newspaper claimed police were investigating an alleged homosexual relationship between a "prominent peer and a leading thug in the London underworld", who is alleged to be involved in a West End protection racket. The following week the newspaper said it had a picture of the peer and the gangster sitting on a sofa. Rumours soon began circulating that the peer was Boothby and the gangster was Ronnie Kray. Stories also circulated that Harold Wilson and Cecil King, the chairman of the International Publishing Corporation were conspiring in an attempt to overthrow the Conservative government led by Alec Douglas -Home. Coote used his contacts in the media to discover what was going on.

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As journalist John Pearson pointed out: "By doing nothing he (Boothby) would tacitly accept the Sunday Mirror's accusations. On the other hand, to sue for libel would mean facing lengthy and expensive court proceedings which could ruin him financially - apart from whatever revelations the Sunday Mirror could produce to support its story." Boothby was then approached by two leading Labour Party figures, Gerald Gardiner, QC and solicitor Arnold Goodman. They offered to represent Lord Boothby in any libel case against the newspaper. Goodman was Wilson's "Mr Fixit" and Gardiner was later that year to become the new prime-minister's Lord Chancellor.

Boothby now wrote a letter to The Times and argued that the Sunday Mirror had been referring to him and that he intended to sue this newspaper for libel. He claimed that he had only met Kray three times. However, this had been public events in 1964 (there were published photographs of these meetings and so they could not be denied). When the case came to court, the newspaper decided not to reveal the compromising photograph. Unwilling to defend their story, Lord Boothby was awarded £40,000 and the editor of the newspaper was sacked. This resulted in other newspapers not touching the story. Scotland Yard was also ordered to drop their investigation into Boothby and Ronnie Kray.

In his autobiography published in 1966 he tried to distance himself from Ward by attacking him for his interest in helping the Soviet Union to negotiate an end to the Cold War. Coote claimed that Ward's ideas "would have seemed ludicrous to a mentally deficient child... I should doubt whether a more trivial person has ever seriously embarrassed a government." He added that he had little in common with Ward other than he was his osteopath.

Colin Reith Coote died on the 8th June, 1979.

Primary Sources

(1) Philip Knightley, An Affair of State (1987)

One of Ward's patients who had become a friend was Sir Colin Coote, editor of the Daily Telegraph. Coote had suffered from lumbago for years and had gone to see Ward on the recommendation of Sir Godfrey Nicholson, MP. "To my complete astonishment ... the pain was tamed and then expelled," Coote said later.

Coote and Ward had started to play bridge together, attending the Connaught Bridge Club in Edgeware Road. Occasionally Coote had asked Ward to his house to make up a four. Then, after the success of Ward's series of portraits for the Illustrated London News, Coote decided to implement a scheme he had been considering for some time. "I had long been pondering whether black and white drawings might not be an interesting substitute for photographs [in the Daily Telegraph]. The trial of Eichmann in Israel was about to begin and I thought I would try the experiment of employing Stephen Ward to do sketches of the personalities in court."

Ward duly went to Israel and a series of his drawings appeared in the newspaper. Coote got many complimentary letters about the drawings and decided that when there was another opportunity to use Ward he would do so. Ward, too, was thinking about an encore. He knew that the impact made by his exhibition, his Illustrated London News series, and his Eichmann trial sketches would not last for ever and that his art career needed another imaginative boost. He had an idea: he would go to the Soviet Union and sketch the Soviet leaders, the whole Politburo if he could get them. He raised the idea with Coote who encouraged him, promising to commission him if the Russians agreed.

Ward realised that trying to negotiate permission to sketch Soviet leaders through the Soviet Embassy in London could take ages. He decided that his best chance would be to go to Moscow with his portfolio of British leaders, somehow show it to Khrushchev and ask permission to draw him. If Khrushchev agreed, Ward reasoned, then other Soviet leaders would prove easy. The only problem was that the Soviet Embassy apparently would not give him a visa, even for a tourist trip to Moscow. The Embassy never actually refused him a visa, but weeks went by and nothing happened.

One afternoon when Coote's lumbago was playing up again, he went to Ward for treatment. Ward took the opportunity to complain about his visa problems and Coote promised to do what he could to help. Two days later an opportunity occurred. The doyen of the naval attaches of the London diplomatic corps, Vice-Admiral Victor Marchal, had earlier asked Coote's permission to bring some of his colleagues on a tour of the Daily Telegraph.

After the attaches had seen over the building and watched the presses begin their nightly run, Coote, as was his custom, invited them to his office for a drink. One of the attaches turned out to be Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, representing the Soviet Embassy. "He seemed to be an agreeable person and spoke excellent English," Coote recalled. "I remembered Stephen Ward's difficulty about a visa and thought that this link might be useful." Coote decided that the way to go about it was to have Ward and Ivanov to lunch and there introduce them.

(2) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001)

Colin Coote, either a fool or a pawn in spy games being played by Moscow or Britain, had been a patient of Stephen's, as so many of his contacts or dupes were. He had been sent to Stephen for back treatment by the MP Sir Godfrey Nicholson. Coote was also a university friend of the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, and a regular golfing partner of Roger Hollis, the Director-General of M15. It was Coote who supposedly arranged for Stephen and Eugene Ivanov to meet. Before he died he wrote that he simply wanted to help Stephen to get a visa to visit Moscow to draw Khrushchev. Whatever Coote thought or really was, this was just a cover for Stephen and Eugene to be seen together, to be able to operate together. For Eugene was a Moscow spy who arrived in London on 27 March 1960 to work for Stephen.

(3) The Denning Report (1963)

Stephen Ward often expressed a wish to go to Moscow. He wanted to draw pictures of the personalities there, particularly Mr. Khruschchev. He told this to the Editor of a newspaper who was a patient of his. The Editor happened to have met Captain Ivanov: and invited Stephen Ward to lunch and meet him. This was on 20th January, 1961. Stephen Ward took an immediate liking to Captain Ivanov. He began to enlist Ivanov's help to arrange sittings with Mr. Khrushchev. The Security Service got to know of their friendship and on 8th June, 1961, saw Stephen Ward about it. A few weeks later came the Cliveden weekend.

(4) The Sunday Independent (1st January 1995)

In it's dying days in the summer of 1964, Sir Alec Douglas-Home's Tory government feared it was about to face another sex scandal similar to the the Profumo case the year before.

John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had been forced to resign after it emerged that he had slept with a woman who was also having an affair with a Soviet diplomat.

On 12 July 1964, the Sunday Mirror published a front page lead story under the headline: "Peer and a gangster: Yard probe." The newspaper claimed police were investigating an alleged homosexual relationship between a "prominent peer and a leading thug in the London underworld", who is alleged to be involved in a West End protection racket.

It said the peer was a "household name", and that the inquiries embraced Mayfair parties attended by the peer and the thug, and "the private weekend activities of the peer and a number of prominent public men during visits to Brighton". Scotland Yard was also looking at "relationships between the East End gangsters and a number of clergymen". It also spoke of allegations of blackmail.

Although the peer was not named, Fleet Street and the Commons had heard the rumours, and identified the peer as Lord Boothby, a former Conservative private secretary to Churchill, and then a radio and television personality. The Kray's had not yet achieved their notoriety.

Other newspapers did little about the story, and Scotland Yard denied it, but the Home Office and the Prime Minister's office were taking it seriously. The Profumo scandal had similarly simmered beneath the surface for months before exploding.

Sir Tim Bligh, the Prime Minister's private secretary, illustrated how the rumour mill had begun to operate when he sent a note to Douglas-Home on July 18 saying he had spoken to the chief whip, who had heard from two backbench Tory MPs that "Lord Boothby and (Tom) Driberg, (a Labour MP) had been importuning males at a dog track and were involved with gangs of thugs who dispose of their money at the tracks".

Bligh, apparently believing the tales, said the information "has been passed on to the Home Office", and that "the chief whip's (Martin Redmayne) view remains that if a prosecution was impending and was being held up, it should proceed".

The next day the Sunday Mirror splashed again on the story, saying it had a picture of the peer and the gangster sitting on a sofa.

At Chequers that day the story and its implications were debated by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Dilhorne, the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, and the Prime Minister.

Later another backbench MP told Brooke's personal private secretary he knew the photograph of Boothby and Kray was incriminating, although he had not seen it.

Boothby had by now returned from holiday abroad with Sir Colin Coote, editor of the Daily Telegraph, and sent a detailed letter to the Home Secretary explaining his innocence. The photograph had been taken when Ronald Kray had come to his house six months earlier to discuss a legitimate business proposition. Boothby had not known Kray was a criminal, and had in any case turned down the business plan. Kray had wanted to be pictured with Boothby because he was a personality, and it would have been churlish to refuse. Boothby was not a homosexual, he told Brooke.

On 21 July the Home Secretary chaired a secret meeting of senior Conservatives to discuss what is now being seen as an impending crisis. At his request, the editor and reporter at the Sunday Mirror were interviewed but said nothing.

At this stage MI5 was asked what it knew, and said it had nothing on Boothby or Kray. The chief whip said he believed there was a conspiracy between the Labour Party and the Mirror.

Given a note about the meeting, the unworldly Douglas-Home, out of touch with the subtleties of London gossip, scribbled a note puzzling that if it is politically motivated, why is Boothby involved?

William Deedes, future editor of the Daily Telegraph and then a minister without portfolio, tried without success to find out from Fleet Street the source of the Mirror's story.

Bligh, the Prime Minister's private secretary, by now had the story completely out of proportion, and had picked up the fact that Coote had been peripherally involved with characters in the Profumo scandal.

Then almost as suddenly as it had blown up, the story went away. The Mirror later conceded it had no justification, apologised and paid the peer £40,000 in out of court damages, a massive sum 30 years ago.

Boothby, although always in precarious financial state, partly because of his gambling, gave the money away, mainly to members of his family and children of his friends for their education.

(5) John Pearson, The Sunday Independent (15th June, 1996)

Anyone who needs reminding how effortlessly corruption can occur in the highest - as well as the lowest - reaches of society and politics should watch next week's `Secret Lives' documentary.

Startling new evidence, presented here for the first time by the Kray twins' official biographer, shows that an extraordinary establishment cover-up resulted in London's most notorious villains being given the freedom of the city. Thanks to what took place, the Krays became `untouchables', who over four long years were allowed to create the most elaborate crime ring this country has ever seen.

More than 30 years on, the true story of Lord Boothby and the Krays can finally be told - it is a story that today's politicians might do well to ponder By 1964, Robert John Graham Boothby, first - and last - Baron Boothby of Buchan and Rattray Head, had become famous but not in quite the way that he had expected.

As a Conservative politician his background was impeccable - rich father, Eton and Oxford - and, on entering parliament at the age of 24, he became the type of young MP who gets tipped as a future premier. He became the friend and follower of Winston Churchill who, in 1939, gave him his first big chance as Minister for Food in the wartime government.

But Boothby had certain flaws in his character. In the first place he was an addicted gambler and something of a liar - and it was for lying to a parliamentary committee over a financial deal by which he had hoped to pay his debts, that Churchill sacked him.

He was also a promiscuous bisexual. At Oxford he relied on men for pleasure, but later was also inclined to women and, as a young MP, he started a long affair with Lady Dorothy Macmillan, wife of his friend and fellow MP Harold Macmillan and daughter of the Duke of Devonshire. Besides a daughter, this affair produced some curious results.

Harold Macmillan wouldn't agree to a divorce, and to divert himself from domestic misery, put all his energies into politics - which could be why he and not the more flamboyant Boothby finally became Prime Minister. It was towards the end of the affair that Prime Minister Macmillan, in a show of absurdly stylish condescension, offered his wife's old lover a life peerage.

A vain man, Boothby loved his title, and it coincided with a period of remarkable success for him on television. Never at a loss for an anecdote or an aphorism, Boothby with his battered looks and maverick charm was a natural for the medium, and rapidly became a celebrity.

But then, in July 1964, his enviable life seemed suddenly derailed by a front-page story in the Sunday Mirror. Under the headline "Peer and a Gangster: Yard Probe", the story claimed that Scotland Yard had virtually completed an investigation into a homosexual relationship between a peer "who is a household name" and a notorious London gangster.

The following week, the paper repeated its allegations and this time effectively libelled Boothby by stating that it had a photograph of the gangster and the peer taken together in the latter's Mayfair flat. By now photographs were circulating in Fleet Street of Ronnie Kray, the gangster, decorously perched on a sofa with Lord Boothby in his flat in Eaton Square.

In Germany, Stern had run an article actually naming him in its headline: "Lord Bobby in Trouble". Boothby was on holiday in France when the story broke, and claimed to have been puzzled initially by the peer's identity. It is interesting that when he was back in London, the first person he rang to find out who it was, was his friend, the journalist and former Labour party chairman Tom Driberg.

According to Boothby, Driberg's reply was brief and to the point: "I'm sorry Bob, it's you." For a man of his exalted situation, this placed Boothby in a tricky position. While admitting that somebody called Ronnie Kray had visited his flat to discuss a business deal, he emphatically denied the rest of the Sunday Mirror allegations.

This left him two alternatives. By doing nothing he would tacitly accept the Sunday Mirror's accusations. On the other hand, to sue for libel would mean facing lengthy and expensive court proceedings which could ruin him financially - apart from whatever revelations the Sunday Mirror could produce to support its story.

According to a friend, he was on the point of suicide when help appeared from an unexpected quarter. It came in the shape of two of the Labour party's legal heavyweights - Gerald Gardiner, QC, who would become Lord Chancellor in that autumn's newly elected Labour government, and Harold Wilson's portly "Mr Fixit", the overweight solicitor Arnold Goodman, who was soon to join Gardiner in the House of Lords. They offered to represent him.

At their appearance Boothby's troubles vanished as if by magic. Sir Joseph Simpson, the Commissioner for Police, denied ordering the Yard investigation that the Sunday Mirror mentioned. The Sunday Mirror suddenly discovered that it had no evidence to support its story.

And, advised by Gardiner, Boothby penned a famous letter to the Times specifically denying all of the Mirror's allegations. He firmly stated he was not a homosexual and that he had met the man "who is alleged to be king of the underworld, only three times on business matters and then by appointment in my flat, at his request and in the company of other people ... In short, the whole affair is a tissue of atrocious lies."

Backed by this letter, Goodman jumped into action, and by winning a swift agreement from the International Printing Corporation, owners of the Sunday Mirror, saved Boothby from the court case he was dreading. He did more than that. Like the tough negotiator he was, Goodman won his client a record out-of-court settlement of pounds 40,000 and a grovelling public apology signed by Cecil Harmsworth King, the chairman of IPC.

At the time it seemed that justice had been done, and that Boothby had indeed deserved this massive sum - over half a million pounds in today's inflated currency. It also seemed as if this settlement would put an end for ever to the doubts and queries raised by the Sunday Mirror article.

In fact, they were just beginning. I got to know the Krays in l967 when, in a fit of investigative zeal, I agreed to write their joint biography with the promise of their full co-operation. This was nine months before they were arrested, and the more I saw of them the more worrying Found them.

These were emphatically not the cheery cockney villains of popular perception, keen to help old ladies and steer clear of honest citizens. Ronald, a homosexual, was seriously psychotic, and his identical twin brother, Reginald, was living on his nerves - and Gordon's gin.

Both were palpably dangerous. But despite, or possibly because of this, the twins were extraordinarily successful in their chosen line of business.

In their dark blue suits and chauffeur- driven cars they were essentially early figures of the enterprise culture, criminal entrepreneurs who made large amounts of tax-free money from a vast and efficiently administered protection racket, mostly operated with other criminals.

They were the enforcers of the underworld, "Percentage Men", whose reputation was so fearsome that hardened criminals obeyed them. Much of the Krays' money came from the arsonists, gamblers and fraudsters they saved from trouble.

They had connections with the American Mafia, "protecting" their gambling interests in London together with the sale of stolen bearer bonds in Europe. Many West End clubs paid them to keep out of trouble, and the Krays had a knack of getting money out of any crime they heard of either by threats or extortion.

They could be useful if expensive allies - and lethal enemies. Like the big businessmen they were, they were always anxious to expand their operations. One of the last discussions I had with Ronnie Kray, a night or two before he was arrested, was over whether he should get involved with some stolen uranium on offering Switzerland - and I remember him adding that "the Firm" would soon be moving into sophisticated drugs.

He knew someone in the Pakistani Embassy who could use his diplomatic immunity to bring heroin into Britain, and clearly saw this as only the beginning. The Krays also murdered people. How many was a matter for speculation. The rumours of their gangland killings were an important part of their mystique, for what particularly impressed the underworld was the way they seemed to murder with impunity.

Bodies were rarely found, no one dared give evidence, and the police evinced no eagerness to catch them. The twins were expert in what they termed "propaganda"; spreading the rumours round the underworld which formed the basis of the fear they marketed.

Much of this fear depended on the sense of their invulnerability. I was impressed by it myself. The press steered clear of them. So, it seemed, did the police, and they claimed to have protectors and informants in the highest places - "even in the House of Lords," as Ronnie said to me on one occasion.

Certainly their inside knowledge was uncanny. Some thought Ronnie Kray was psychic but I suspected more prosaic sources of protection.

From all that I could gather, the twins' immunity had started at around the time of their "victory" over the press and the police in the Boothby case in 1964, but this was something they would not discuss. So I interviewed Lord Boothby on the subject in his flat in Eaton Place.

Despite his celebrated charm, it was not the easiest of conversations. Unsurprisingly Boothby was very guarded on the subject of the twins. He insisted that he barely knew them, and that "the truth about my relationship with the Krays is contained in my letter to the Times" .

Boothby added one thing that I've always remembered. I asked him why, as a lifelong Conservative, he was assisted in his troubles by important members of the Labour party. "That was all down to the little man, " he said. "What little man?" I asked him. "Harold Wilson," he replied.

"He was always one of my admirers." I took his word for it, and there the matter rested until July 1968 when, in a series of dawn raids across London, a great policeman, Commander Leonard "Nipper" Read, arrested the Krays and their henchmen in their beds.

Their years as criminal "untouchables" were over. When dealing with gangsters it's advisable to get on with their mothers. I genuinely liked the Kray twins' mother, Violet, and a few days later, when I visited her in her top-floor tower-block flat in Moorgate, she said she wanted me to have a small,brown suitcase "which might be useful for your book".

Along with old newspaper cuttings of the twins, it contained a personally inscribed copy of Lord Boothby's memoirs, and a photograph. The picture was of Ronnie Kray and Boothby and a pair of criminals I recognised, sitting with a teenage boy in Jermyn Street's Society Club - now Tramp.

There were also some letters to Ronald Kray from Boothby, written on headed paper from the House of Lords, which began, "Dear Ronnie" . One of them thanked him for the gift of an expensive vase. Another proposed to call to see him at his Knights, Esmeralda's Barn.

The letters were dated 1963, the year before the three brief business visits to the flat in Eaton Place which he had specifically stated were the only times they'd met. These letters made it clear that in his letter to the Times, Lord Boothby had lied.

This lie had important implications for the book that I was writing, but it was made apparent by lawyers on both sides that if I mentioned it, I could face a libel action that would ruin me for ever. I was also coming up against another wall of silence from a different quarter.

Lord Goodman refused to see me, as did Cecil King and Lord (Hugh) Cudlipp of the Mirror. It was explained to me that when Goodman had made the deal with IPC, he had insisted on a clause forbidding anyone involved from subsequently discussing it in public.

This meant that when my book about the Krays, The Profession of Violence, was published, it lacked what I knew to be a crucial section of the story. But once the Old Bailey trial of the Krays was over, people around them talked more freely, and I found out more about the curious relationship between Ronnie Kray and Robert Boothby.

There was considerably more to it than I suspected. Not only did they share a love for teenage boys, which Ronnie Kray provided, but Boothby clearly had a fascination for dangerous company, coupled with a reckless disregard for its consequences.

There was evidence that when he dined Ronnie Kray in the House of Lords and took him for a drink at White's Club in St James's, members of Scotland Yard's Intelligence section already had him under surveillance. There was also evidence that, in return, Ronnie Kray could offer Boothby something more exciting than dinner at the Lords.

As well as boys there were East End orgies and sex shows involving criminals. One account described Boothby lying under a glass-topped table while boys were made to defecate above him. Another described him sitting naked in a room with a number of criminals and boys around him, and "love beads" protruding from his anus.

Normally such behaviour would have been Lord Boothby's own affair but for someone so famous - and so recognisable - it was madness, and one must wonder if he was seeking self- destruction.

Certainly it made him subject to blackmail by the Krays. More to the point, it raised again the crucial question of why, in that early summer of 1964, distinguished members of a future Labour government should have let themselves become involved in saving such a character from a disaster of his own making.

From what I knew of Harold Wilson, Boothby's suggestion that "the little man" had done it from the kindness of his own heart appeared unlikely. The heart of Harold Wilson didn't operate like that, and the idea of two top legal members of the Labour high command taking on a case like this on their own initiative - and on the eve of a general election - struck me as improbable.

From what I finally discovered, the answer seemed to lie with Cecil Harmsworth King, who had eagerly insisted on running the original story in the Sunday Mirror, in the hope of impressing the Labour leader with what he thought would be an election-winning scandal.

But Wilson and his close adviser Arnold Goodman felt otherwise. Just the year before, during the Profumo affair, Wilson followed Goodman's wise advice not to make party capital from scandal, and enhanced his image as statesman. Now it was even more important for Labour not to spoil its chances in the election by exploiting an even murkier affair.

It was an awkward situation. But, not for the first or the last time in his life, Harold Wilson's clever Mr Fixit came to the aid of the party. In 1994 a further twist was given to this extraordinary saga when cabinet papers, released under the 30-year rule, showed that back in June 1964 members of the Conservative government led by Alec Douglas Home had been even more alarmed at the prospect of a Boothby scandal on the eve of the election than their Labour counterparts.

This was not because they thought their man was innocent and had been cruelly libelled by the Sunday Mirror. Quite the contrary. Only a few weeks earlier, two Conservative back-benchers had reported to the chief whip that they had seen Lord Boothby at a dog track importuning boys with none other than his friend Tom Driberg.

The Tories were so shell-shocked from Profumo, that the situation called for a crisis meeting at Chequers to decide what to do. As no one apparently had the least idea, the Conservatives must have felt extremely grateful when Arnold Goodman inadvertently saved them - even if pounds 40,000 for a rogue like Robert Boothby did strike some of them as at ouch excessive.

The most interesting fresh evidence to come to light, and in its way the most pathetic, is the story of how Boothby met the Krays. This was through Leslie Holt, a young, good-looking cat burglar, with whom Boothby fell in love after meeting him at gambling club in 1963.

Holt was also one of Ronnie Kray's drivers and lovers, and Ronnie clearly used him as a lure for Boothby, who was all too willing to be caught. To his credit, Boothby tried to save Holt from the dangers of the life he was living,and it was not the fault of Boothby - or the Krays - that Holt was later murdered by a Harley Street anesthetist.

There is also new and probably conclusive further evidence of why Labour's high command moved so swiftly into action on behalf of Robert Boothby. This involves yet another future member of the House of Lords, Boothby's fellow enthusiast for boys and dog tracks.

Tom Driberg - just as Boothby became involved with the Krays through Leslie Holt so Driberg got to know them through "Mad" Teddy Smith, a good-looking psychopathic gangster who was a friend and occasional enemy of the Krays. Driberg,described as a "voracious homosexual", is said to have given Smith the addresses of his rich acquaintances, whose houses he might burgle in return for sexual favours.

Knowing Driberg, this is not unlikely, but if Boothby was self- destructive, Driberg had a famous knack of getting out of trouble. As Boothby's friend he was very much aware of his situation from the start. He knew that if the case went to court he would almost certainly be named and ruined along with Boothby.

But as an important member of the Labour executive, Driberg had a lot of influence, particularly over Harold Wilson, and he would certainly have used it to encourage Arnold Goodman's rescue operation which would save Boothby and himself.

All of which undoubtedly explains why, after the settlement, there was not a squeak in parliament about the case - and why instead there seemed an overwhelming cross-bench willingness to let sleeping dogs, however dirty, lie - and go on lying. Which Lord Boothby did until he died in 1986.

WHATEVER the reasons for the rescue of Lord Boothby, what can never be disputed is the dire effect it had upon the three great institutions which are meant to protect us from dangerous criminals like the Krays. First in responsibility were the politicians in parliament who had previously been concerned about the growth of organised crime and protection rackets but who now fell silent.

To have mentioned the Krays would have meant reviving their involvement with Lord Boothby, and who could tell where that would lead? The press fell silent, too; pounds 40,000 was a lot of money, and there was little point in risking a similar performance with such tricky characters.

The press, once so vociferous against the Krays, found other targets. But the worst effect was on the police. Here, the crucial point was that the Sunday Mirror story was correct. A Scotland Yard investigation had been observing and reporting on the obvious relationship between Boothby and the Krays. It had been conducted by the Yard's Intelligence section, on the initiative of its then commander, Detective Superintendent John E Cummings.

But, worried by the prospect of trouble from the politicians, the Commissioner, Sir Joseph Simpson, had chosen to deny it, and from then on there was no real incentive at the Yard to catch the Krays. What Sir Joseph wanted was a quiet life.

An Old Bailey trial against the Krays for criminal protection foundered - thanks partly to the way they interfered with members of the jury, and also because of a lack of commitment from the top. It was while the Krays were on remand that Boothby infamously felt obliged to ask a question on their behalf in the House of Lords.

For the next three years the police would leave the Krays alone. Even when they turned to murder, there was no attempt to catch them, and when "Nipper" Read finally obtained permission for a full-scale offensive from a new police Commissioner, Sir John Waldron, in 1967, he wisely insisted on conducting the entire operation away from Scotland Yard itself. It could be argued that, as political scandals go, the Boothby case was an exception.

But scandals are exceptional by their very nature, and now that it is part of history, the Boothby case should be remembered for what it was - an exemplary and most extraordinary cause celebre among British political scandals.

It embodied almost everything that makes us cynical about politicians - the neat manipulation of events, the bland suppression of the truth, and the way the establishment protects its own.It is also a fascinating demonstration of the way the fault lines of corruption run in our society, how the law can be manipulated, how class solidarity is exerted, how secrecy becomes a curse and how power corrupts.

The lessons are endless and I recommend them to a new and - we hope - less gullible generation of British politicians. It would be good to think that Lords Boothby, Driberg, Goodman - and the Krays - could not have got away with it today.

(6) Peregrine Worsthorne, The New Statesman (26th February, 2001)

Read as fiction, Christine Keeler's The Truth at Last makes for quite a gripping thriller, and provides more than enough new angles on the familiar story of the 1960s Profumo scandal to make it just worth reading. "New angles" is an understatement: Keeler's story turns the familiar one on its head, and transforms the artist-osteopath Stephen Ward from a charming, persecuted pimp into a sinister and murderous Soviet spymaster controlling not only Anthony Blunt, but also Sir Roger Hollis, then head of MI5.

Other sensational novelties include a walk-on part for Oswald Mosley, the prewar fascist leader, who is numbered among her many famous clients, and the suggestion that my first editor at the Daily Telegraph, Sir Colin Coote, much decorated as a First World War hero, was not quite the silken-haired patriot he seemed. Apparently, it was not only at the Garrick Club that he used to wine and dine Ward, who treated his back. Those innocent meetings, it seems, were merely a cover for hitherto unknown, more conspiratorial encounters.