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Ex-party leader Jeremy Thorpe dies

Former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, who once stood trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to murder, has died.

Mr Thorpe, 85, who headed the party in the 1960s and 1970s, had been suffering from Parkinson's Disease for more than three decades.

He had a glittering political career, helping to revive the Liberals in the 1970s, but was brought down by the sensational court case in which he was accused of conspiracy and incitement to murder former male model Norman Scott.

After his acquittal in 1979, he withdrew into the privacy of his home and family and effectively cut himself off from public life amid ailing health.

Acquitted with Mr Thorpe were his close friend David Holmes, then 49, a one-time deputy treasurer of the Liberal Party, and two South Wales businessmen, John Le Mesurier, 49, and George Deakin, 39, a nightclub owner.

Mr Thorpe, who was 50 at the time, was also cleared on the charge he faced alone of incitement to kill.

The man who saw himself as a future prime minister was to fall victim to the one chink in his armour - a homosexual tendency in his youth.

Through this he became involved, 18 years before the trial, with Mr Scott, a young homosexual who was to turn up again and again through his life, casting a pall over his whole career.

Their lives remained inextricably linked. Mr Scott claimed a homosexual relationship, which Mr Thorpe consistently and vigorously denied.

There was intense interest in the Old Bailey trial, which lasted 31 days, with the jury taking 52 hours to acquit all the accused of everything.

This was after the judge's summing up in which he repeatedly challenged Mr Scott's credibility and denounced him as a crook and "an accomplished sponger, very skilful at exciting and exploiting sympathy".

Those paying tribute to Mr Thorpe included L ord (David) Steel of Aikwood, who succeeded him as party leader, and said: "He had a genuine sympathy for the underprivileged - whether in his beloved North Devon where his first campaign was for 'mains, drains and a little bit of light' or in Africa, where he was a resolute fighter against apartheid and became a respected friend of people like President Kaunda of Zambia."

Liberal Democrat former minister Sir Nick Harvey, who represents Mr Thorpe's former constituency of North Devon, described him as a "towering force in shaping the political landscape of the late 20th and early 21st centuries".

"Jeremy Thorpe was a colossal figure in the revival of the Liberal cause in post-war Britain and today's Lib Dem politicians continue to feast on his legacy," he said.

"His charisma, energy and innovative campaigning lit up his generation of British politics. He was the first to embrace fully the television age, the first to hit the campaign trail in a helicopter and both the first and, rather memorably, the last to deploy a hovercraft.

"He would have shone in whatever walk of life he chose, but it was to the lasting benefit of Liberalism that he rejected the Conservatism of his ancestors and devoted himself to progressive causes at home and abroad. In North Devon he was a greatly-loved champion of the community and is remembered with huge affection to this day."

Mr Thorpe's son Rupert said the politician "was a devoted husband to my two mothers, Caroline, who died tragically in 1970, and Marion who passed away in March and had raised me and stood by him through everything".

"His grandchildren and great-grandchildren will miss him dearly, as will I."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: "Jeremy Thorpe's enforced resignation as leader of the Liberal Party and his subsequent departure from Parliament should not obscure the fact that in his day he was an outstanding parliamentarian with a coruscating wit, and a brilliant campaigner on the stump whose interest and warmth made him a firm favourite with the public."

He added that Mr Thorpe "bore his long illness with courage and determination" and never lost his "consuming interest" in politics.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "Jeremy Thorpe's leadership and resolve were the driving force that continued the Liberal revival that began under Jo Grimond.

"Jeremy oversaw some of the party's most famous by-election victories and his involvement with the anti-apartheid movement and the campaign for Britain's membership of the common market were ahead of his time.

"My thoughts are with Jeremy's family and friends as they try and come to terms with their loss."

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