How a Black Country MP tipped to be Prime Minister faked his own death and disappeared - Part 5: The comeback
After being found living under an alias in Australia, John Stonehouse finally returned to Britain in June, 1975, and on his arrest was remanded in custody at Brixton Prison until August when he was granted bail.
He continued to serve as an MP while in jail. Harold Wilson was unhappy about the situation, but with his government on a knife-edge, Stonehouse was allowed to retain the Labour whip for the time being.
In October, while still on bail, a brazen Stonehouse gave a speech in the House of Commons, vehemently denying claims he was a Czechoslovak spy, and blaming a mental breakdown for his behaviour.
“I assumed a new parallel personality that took over from me, which was foreign to me and which despised the humbug and sham of the past years of my public life,” he told a stunned House of Commons.
In an attempt to salvage his career, Stonehouse took an expensive taxi ride from London to Walsall in March, 1976, when he presented his case to the local Labour Party.
He received a frosty reception. Before he even got the chance to address the constituency management committee, a young man in a leather jacket punched him in the shoulder.
After listening in silence to a 50-minute vehement defence, the committee rejected his pleas by 47-1, and called for him to resign at the next election.
Stonehouse sprang another surprise the following month when he turned up at a St George’s Day festival organised by the English National Party – and announced he had defected to the little-known group. The timing could not have been worse, robbing new Prime Minister Jim Callaghan of his majority the day before he set foot in Downing Street.
In August 1976, at the end of a 68-day trial during the blisteringly hot summer, Stonehouse was convicted of 18 charges of theft or deception, Buckley five. He was handed jail sentences totalling more than 95 years, although most of these were concurrent, meaning that in reality his term would be seven years. Buckley was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Throughout the trial, Stonehouse had claimed he had been taken over by the personality of Joe Markham, who had died from a heart attack at the age of 42, in March, 1974.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Eveleigh told Buckley it was unfortunate she had met ‘this persuasive, deceitful and ambitious man’.
He had no doubt she knew what was going on, but said Stonehouse’s mesmeric influence must have been tremendous.
His harshest words, though were for the MP himself.