Stonehouse: A meeting that led to a political scandal

When John Stonehouse met Sheila Buckley

John Stonehouse was a British Labour Party politician and Member of Parliament (MP) in the UK. First elected to Parliament in 1957, he served as a cabinet minister under Harold Wilson’s government.

In the 1970s, he was embroiled in a scandal involving fraud and faking his own death, for which he was later convicted and served time in prison. He was expelled from the Labour Party in 1975 and later served a short prison sentence.

Stonehouse is remembered for causing one of the most high-profile UK political scandals of the 1970s, a story which has recently been revived in an ITV drama.

John Stonehouse and Sheila Buckley
© Goddard Archive 2 / Alamy Stock Photo

Who was Sheila Buckley?

During his tenure as a Labour MP, John Stonehouse engaged in an affair with Sheila Buckley, who was working in his office as his parliamentary secretary when their affair began. 21 years his junior, Sheila relied on Stonehouse as a mentor and support as she worked hard to make a name for herself.

They became closer, with Sheila confiding in him and leaning on him for support, before a romantic relationship blossomed. The only problem was that John Stonehouse was already married to Barbara, who was seemingly willing to ignore her husband’s infidelity to keep their marriage intact.

The faked death scandal

Stonehouse found himself at the centre of a fraud scandal and rather than sticking around to deal with it head on, he opted to find a different solution altogether.

In November of 1974, Stonehouse was reported missing and a pile of his clothing was found on a beach in Miami, Florida, leading authorities to believe that he had drowned. However, it was later revealed that he was alive and had fled to Australia using passports from dead constituents, in an attempt to escape his financial and legal troubles.

While attempting to obtain illegal funds he had transferred to Australia, a suspicious bank teller raised the alarm, and his plot was uncovered. Stonehouse then contacted both his wife and Buckley to ask for their support and for them to meet him in Australia, where his wife demanded he choose between her and Buckley.

Stonehouse chose Buckley and was brought back to the UK to face trial and was convicted of fraud, embezzlement and obstructing the police. He was given seven years in prison, of which he served three and was expelled from the Labour Party.

Buckley was also investigated for her role in the subterfuge, and was arrested for conspiracy, theft and fraud for the part she played in the faked death scandal. When taken to trial, she received a suspended sentence of two years.

After Stonehouse was released from prison

Stonehouse was released from prison in 1979, in poor health. He had experienced heart attacks during his time in prison and had to go through open heart surgery whilst incarcerated. During all this time, Sheila Buckley remained in love with him and in 1981, the pair married and then had a son together the following year. They remained married until 1988, when he died from a massive heart attack.

It was later in his life that accusations started circulating that Stonehouse had also been a spy for Czechoslovakia during the Cold War and this was backed up further in 2010, when classified papers were released that showed Sir Michael Havers had also been made aware of the allegations. Based around his need for greater sums of cash to be able to afford the lifestyle he wanted to live as a rising politician, it’s claimed that he was paid £5000 in cash to provide specific political information to the Czech StB that he learned during meetings as a politician.

Stonehouse was not ever charged with espionage or treason, as Margaret Thatcher claimed it would be too politically embarrassing, especially as there were no witnesses that would testify to the crime ever taking place.

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