1925 – 1988
John Thomson Stonehouse was born in Southampton on 28 July 1925. After studying at the London School of Economics he became involved in cooperative enterprise and was a manager of African co-operative societies in Uganda (1952–54) and a director (1956–62) and President (1962–64) of the London Co-operative Society.
His political career began when he was elected as Labour Co-operative Member of Parliament for Wednesbury in a 1957 by-election. When the Wednesbury constituency was abolished in 1974, he stood for and was elected to the nearby Walsall North constituency.
In 1969, Stonehouse was accused of being a Czechoslovak secret service agent. He successfully defended himself but the allegation was substantiated by MI5 and in December 2010 it was revealed that then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had agreed in 1980 to cover up revelations that Stonehouse had been a Czech spy since the 1960s as there was insufficient evidence to bring him to trial.
Stonehouse faked his own death on 20 November 1974, leaving a pile of clothes on a beach in Miami (USA) giving the appearance that he had gone swimming and had been drowned or possibly killed by a shark.
He was presumed dead, and obituaries were published despite the fact that no corpse had been found. In reality, he was en route to Australia, hoping to set up a new life with his mistress and secretary, Sheila Buckley (pictured at right).
Using false identities, Stonehouse transferred large sums of money between banks to cover his tracks.
Under the name of Clive Mildoon, he deposited $21,500 in cash at the Bank of New Zealand. The teller who handled the money later spotted “Mildoon” at the Bank of New South Wales and inquiries led the teller to learn that the money was in the name of Joe Markham and he informed the local police.
Stonehouse spent a while in Copenhagen with Sheila Buckley but later returned to Australia, unaware that he was now under surveillance.
He was arrested on 24 December 1974 and deported to the UK where he was remanded in Brixton Prison until August 1975 when he was released and put on bail. He continued to attend the House of Commons as Labour MP for Walsall North and – although unhappy with the situation – the Labour Party did not expel him.
Once he was ordered to leave the Commons for disorderly conduct, and in April he resigned from the Labour Party to sit as an independent. A week later he joined the English National Party, remaining an MP until he resigned on 27 August.
Stonehouse conducted his own defence on 21 charges of fraud, theft, forgery, conspiracy to defraud, causing a false police investigation and wasting police time. His trial lasted 68 days. On 6 August 1976, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud.
He was imprisoned in HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs until his health deteriorated, at which point he was moved to Blundeston Prison. His secretary Sheila Buckley received a two year suspended sentence.
On 14 August 1979, Stonehouse was released early from prison because of good behaviour and because he had suffered three heart attacks. He underwent open-heart surgery on 7 November 1978.
After his release, Stonehouse worked as a volunteer fundraiser for the East London-based charity, Community Links. He joined the SDP, which later amalgamated with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats, and in June 1980, he was discharged from bankruptcy.
Stonehouse wrote three novels, and made TV appearances and radio broadcasts during the rest of his life, mostly in connection with discussing his disappearance. He married his mistress, Sheila Buckley, in Hampshire on 31 January 1981.
On 14 April 1988 he suffered a massive heart attack at his home. This time he could not be saved, and he died in hospital at 2.30 am.