Operation Velum: A Very Welsh Cover-Up
By Tim Hicks and Chris Clark
Tim Hicks is a freelance journalist who covers crime for the NYE and followed the Yorkshire Ripper investigation as a young man.
Chris Clark is a retired Police Intelligence Officer with twenty eight years’ service. In retirement he has pursued his interest in unsolved cases. He has co-authored a book “The Face Of Evil”. The true story of serial killer Robert Black. He is currently working on a book investigating the “Hammersmith nude murders” of 1964 to 1965. He co-authored the book “Yorkshire Ripper The Secret Murders” with award winning investigative journalist Tim Tate, which was reviewed in the NYE by Tim Hicks (Review here). For more information on Chris, please see his website here.
Background 1: The Jeremy Thorpe Affair
If you have been following the NYE’s coverage of Jeremy Thorpe affair, then please skip the following background sections.
However, for those that are unfamiliar with the Jeremy Thorpe  affair, there is a good summary here  and an excellent documentary here . But briefly, Jeremy Thorpe and three other men went on trial in 1979 for conspiracy to murder Mr Norman Scott, who was one of Mr Thorpe’s homosexual lovers. Thorpe was additionally charged with incitement to murder. All four men were acquitted of all charges. Respected BBC journalist Tom Mangold’s original 1979 report into the Thorpe scandal, which he was ordered to destroy at the time can be viewed here. .
There has been widespread dissatisfaction with the original investigation and allegations of a cover-up, both at the time and up to the present day.
The NYE first started investigating Thorpe and Cyril Smith in 2012 in connection with their connections to Jimmy Savile and the Scarborough paedophile ring. The NYE has continued this investigation because it is historically such an important case with major implications about the current day accountability of the Security Service (MI5) and the police.
Background 2: Operation Velum
London criminal Mr Dennis Meighan alleged in a BBC interview that:
- He and another man had gone to Mr Scott’s home in Devon with a gun to assassinate him.
- He subsequently supplied the gun and ammunition that were used in the attempt to kill Mr Scott by Andrew Newton, in which Mr Scott’s dog was shot.
- The police supressed some of his evidence, thereby protecting Thorpe.
In response to these allegations, Avon & Somerset Constabulary (which conducted the original investigation) asked the Gwent Police to conduct an investigation into the disclosures made by Mr Meighan  in September or October 2015.
The Welsh investigation was codenamed Operation Velum and reported to Avon & Somerset Constabulary in May 2017, whereupon it was closed. Unusually, there was no public comment at all when the operation was closed.
Background 3: NYE Article: A Very English Cover-Up(s)
Following a series of articles on the Jeremy Thorpe affair, the NYE published Jeremy Thorpe: A Very English Cover-Up(s)” on the 9th of June 2018, in which the NYE revealed that:
- Jeremy Thorpe may have been an informant for MI6, when he was broadcasting for the “This Week” current affairs programme on African affairs.
- MI5 undoubtedly knew that Thorpe was a homosexual and a security risk, but nevertheless protected him.
- Operation Velum did not resolve any of the outstanding questions surrounding the Jeremy Thorpe affair or comply with its terms of reference.
- Operation Velum was cloaked in secrecy and then quietly closed.
The NYE thought this would be our “last hurrah” on the Thorpe story and we would move on to stories closer to home.
How wrong could we have been…
Since publication, of the NYE article “A Very English Cover-Up(s)”, new revelations have emerged, which have required a follow up article:
- Norman Scott has now met with the man contracted to kill him – Dennis Meighan – and who also supplied the gun used to kill his dog, and which was intended to be used to murder him. Daily Mail article here.
- On the 10th of June 2018, The Mail on Sunday published an article confirming that contract killer Andrew “Gino” Newton (now known as Hann Redwin) was involved in a plan to spring a KGB Agent from Wormwood Scrubs in 1964.
Contract Killer Andrew Newton, Wormwood Scrubs, MI6 and MI5
However, the full story has still not emerged.
Andrew Newton was a pilot who was convicted of a firearms offence in 1964 and sent to prison. He spent time in D Wing of HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, where he met George Blake.
Blake was an MI6 officer who was captured by the Communists during the Korean War. Whilst in captivity he became a communist. After the end of the Korean War in 1953, he was released and returned to the UK, taking up his old duties in MI6. He spied for the Soviet Union as a double agent within MI6 from 1953 (not during the Korean War as stated in the Mail on Sunday article) until he was himself exposed by a Polish double agent in 1961.
He was jailed for 42-years in 1961. Allegedly one year for each of the MI6 agents he betrayed.
Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs on the 22nd of October 1966, one of Britain’s most notorious prison breaks. The scandal sparked a major inquiry by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma. In his report, presented to Parliament in December 1966, the first details emerged of a previous escape plan in May 1964.
Mountbatten’s investigation confirmed that two prisoners had reported to the Governor that there was a plan for one of the two prisoners, who was a pilot, to escape and then return to free Blake in a helicopter. The 95 page report said the plot had been sanctioned ‘by the U.S.S.R‘ and it was intended to fly Blake to East Germany. It did not provide names but states:
“The pilot was to be the man who reported this story to the Governor, and he was to escape from the prison for the purposes of the operation. He and any crew in the helicopter were to wear police uniforms, and the helicopter was to be painted blue with the word ‘police’ painted in white on the side.“
Mountbatten’s report goes on to confirm that one of the prisoners alleged to the Governor that a member of the Foreign Office was to help in the escape by facilitating Blake’s onward movement to Russia.
During 2015, Chris Clark started writing an as yet unpublished combined account of the escape of George Blake and The Shepherd’s Bush Murders entitled “The Lies and The Spies”. As research tools, he bought a number of books on the subject including “The Greatest Traitor” by Roger Hermiston and “George Blake Superspy”. During the course of his research, he obtained a copy of Earl Mountbatten’s Report which, as well as including the investigation into Blake’s successful escape, also included an account of the planned escape in 1964 using a helicopter. By pulling the three versions together Chris identified Andrew Newton as the un-named pilot in Mountbatten’s Report.
In his book “George Blake, Superspy”, published in 1987, politician and barrister H. Montgomery Hyde unravelled the details of the escape attempt and named Newton as the pilot. He wrote that Blake should really have been moved to a higher security prison after the discovery of the helicopter plot:
“The Governor’s original recommendation was due to the discovery of an earlier escape plan of Blake’s, which Blake had concocted with an American Airline pilot named Andrew Newton, the idea being that Newton, who was imprisoned for illicitly possessing and using a firearm should go too.” “However, Newton appears to have quarrelled with Blake and wrote a letter with the details to MI6 – to the organisation and not to any individual.”
H Montgomery Hyde wrote in a footnote:
“Newton was again sentenced to imprisonment in 1976, when he attempted to kill the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe’s friend Norman Scott, at the same time killing Scott’s dog. On this occasion he got two years.“
Such was the damage that Blake had done and the highly sensitive information he still retained, it is difficult to understate the degree of consternation that intelligence that the Russians were trying to release Blake, would have caused to MI6 and MI5. Particularly as it indicated a member of the Foreign Office was involved.
MI6 obviously passed Newton’s intelligence to MI5, as did the Governor. This triggered a major security investigation, which was conducted by the “Security Service” (MI5), not the Prison Service. MI5 agents interviewed both prisoners. The MI6 investigation identified the member of the Foreign Office who was alleged to be part of the plot and had visited Blake in prison. Lord Mountbatten confirmed in the report that he was “fully satisfied by the security investigations which have been made on this point”.
Then came Blake’s escape from Wormwood Scrubs on the 22nd of October 1966.
Blake was a very resourceful and persuasive man. He had survived imprisonment in Korea and knew how to manipulate those around him. He still possessed intelligence that was useful to the Russians and consequently was still valuable to them. After his escape from Wormwood Scrubs he travelled to Russia via East Germany, where he was extensively de-briefed by the KGB. In espionage terms, a huge success for the KGB and a disaster for both MI5 and MI6.
Blake retired as a Colonel in Foreign Intelligence and is now 96-years-old, living in Moscow. In 2007, he was awarded the Order of Friendship on his 85th birthday by Vladimir Putin. The Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) of the Russian Federation wrote at the time that Blake “still takes an active role in the affairs of the secret service.”
In terms of the Jeremy Thorpe affair, the key relevant points of this are:
- Andrew Newton was known to both MI5 and MI6.
- Having cooperated with the Security Service in a high level security investigation and foiled an escape attempt, Andrew Newton would have been allocated an MI5 Case Officer.
- Having been identified as a British citizen that was involved in a KGB operation to spring a very high level KGB Agent from prison and transport him to Russia, Andrew Newton would certainly have had an MI5 file in 1975 as an inactive MI5 intelligence source.
Prison authorities sometimes allocate a prisoner to befriend another prisoner for the purpose of extracting information from him. Newton’s MI5 case officer may have tried to recruit Newton to provide ongoing information on Blake while they were in prison together. If this happened and with what success is not known.
In 1976, Andrew Newton was convicted of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life which carried a maximum sentence of twenty years, but he went down for two . He served just over half his sentence and was released in April 1977 . No explanation has been forthcoming for this lenient sentence. There was no mention of his connection to MI5.
None of this has been released by Operation Velum, indicating that a security clampdown from MI5 is in place.
Norman Scott, BOSS and MI5
In his book “A Very English Scandal”, John Preston reveals that Norman Scott had been intimate with South African journalist Gordon Winter. Winter was also an agent of South Africa’s intelligence service the Bureau of State Security (BOSS). At the time Prime Minister Harold Wilson was concerned that BOSS was conducting operations in the UK aimed at discrediting UK politicians like Thorpe, who opposed the South African apartheid regime. He ordered an investigation into the activities of BOSS by MI5.
Scott was a British subject known to be in contact with an agent of a hostile foreign intelligence service operating against politicians in the UK. His allegations against Thorpe (a lifelong opponent of apartheid) were likely to destroy Thorpe, which was entirely consistent with the interests of the Apartheid Government. This must have made Scott a person of interest for MI5. It would certainly have resulted in a review of Scott’s DHSS file to ascertain who was paying him and his employment background by MI5 or Special Branch.
Former Home Secretary Jack Straw has recently revealed that when he was working as a special advisor to the Social Security Minister Barbara Castle in the 1970’s, he was asked to review Norman Scott’s Social Security file. He found that the files had intimate details of Scott’s relationship with Thorpe; that they supported the claims that Thorpe had withheld Scott’s National Insurance Card and alleged that he had been in contact with BOSS. Incredibly, documents in the files had been classified using the UK Government Security Classification “SECRET”. Presumably as a result of the MI5 review of his file. Full report from the Guardian here .
Again, the information that Scott had been investigated by MI5 to identify if he was acting on behalf of the South African Government did not emerge at Newton’s trial.
The miraculous resurrection of Andrew Newton as Hann Redwin
According to the Mail on Sunday, one of the reasons Gwent Police cited for taking no further action was the death of Andrew Newton – the second hired hitman – who would have had knowledge of Meighan’s offending.
The only problem was that Newton hadn’t died. Journalists traced Newton, who was alive and well, and living openly under the name Hann Redwin.
No explanation has been forthcoming from Gwent Police as to why journalists were able to easily find Newton/Redwin, but highly experienced Gwent Police detectives with all the intelligence resources of the state at their disposal, were unable to.
The concern must be that Operation Velum was not pursued with vigour. Someone with a less charitable disposition than us might conclude that the police had been told to leave Newton/Redwin well alone.
Operation Velum, a closed and opened Welsh cover-up.
Avon & Somerset Constabulary has jurisdiction over Operation Velum, not Gwent Police and should have authorised any subsequent action on a closed case.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh of Avon & Somerset Constabulary
Not commenting on the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, has he caved in to pressure
from MI5 to conceal its role in the Jeremy Thorpe scandal?
Following the discovery that Newton/Redwin was alive, Gwent Police nevertheless conducted further Operation Velum investigations and spoke to Newton/Redwin who “was unable to provide any additional evidence”. Despite the fact that Operation Velum was closed and the NYE has separately established that Avon & Somerset Constabulary did not request or authorise that Newton/Redwin be interviewed, and had not re-opened Operation Velum.
Gwent Police issued this statement to the NYE on the 4th of June 2018:
“Gwent Police statement
In 2014, the BBC broadcast claims made by Dennis Meighan of Police corruption in the original Jeremy Thorpe investigation.
As a result of this, Avon and Somerset Police asked Gwent Police to examine and investigate these claims on their behalf.
The investigation was codenamed Operation Velum.
Gwent Police interviewed Mr. Meighan under caution and completed other lines of enquiry before submitting its findings to the CPS.
The CPS concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the claims made by Dennis Meighan and that no further action would be taken against Mr Meighan or any other person.
The investigation was closed.
In conducting its investigation, Gwent Police had reasonable grounds to conclude that Andrew Newton / Hann Redwin was deceased.
However, recent information obtained by the Force indicated that this may not be correct.
Having confirmed his status and whereabouts, officers from Gwent Police spoke to Mr Redwin who is unable to provide any additional evidence to that which has already been obtained in the original enquiry.
As Mr Redwin’s evidence has already been considered by the CPS prior to this matter being closed, Gwent Police is satisfied that there is no basis to re-refer the matter to the CPS and the investigation remains closed.
Gwent Police would like to clarify that at no point has it re-opened the original Jeremy Thorpe investigation. Operation Velum was specifically about claims made by Dennis Meighan of Police corruption relating to the Thorpe enquiry.
The two enquiries are linked but are separate investigations.
In conducting its investigation, Gwent’s priority was to review the matter with sensitivity to those involved and the families of those now deceased.
Gwent Police would not respond to the NYE’s questions on:
- What the “reasonable grounds to conclude that Andrew Newton / Hann Redwin was deceased”
- If Newton/Redwin was interviewed under caution in a police station.
- How, having closed the Operation Velum investigation and passed it back to Avon & Somerset, Gwent Police have interviewed Newton/Redwin without the case having been formally re-opened and the interview authorised by Avon & Somerset Constabulary.
Chief Constable Julian Williams, of Gwent Police
Has he caved in to pressure from MI5 to conceal its role in the Jeremy Thorpe scandal?
The decision on whether or not to interview Newton/Redwin was Avon & Somerset’s, not Gwent’s. The interview with Newton/Redwin would have had to be authorised by Avon & Somerset Constabulary and Operation Velum formally re-opened. This would then require the additional process of establishing a Gold Group to oversee the governance of the investigation and appointing a Gold Commander for the Operation, prior to interviewing Redwin.
Avon & Somerset Constabulary deny having authorised the interview. Whilst Gwent Police is adamant that Operation Velum was not re-opened, although it obviously has been. This is extraordinary.
It must be a concern that Gwent Police was only going through the motions, to quickly address the press criticism. Not to genuinely interviewing Newton/Redwin to progress the investigation.
The Meighan revelations
Meighan confessed to Avon & Somerset Police in 1975 that he had gone to Devon with a gun and an accomplice to murder Mr Scott. He alleges that the police replaced it with a statement that reduced his role and that of Thorpe and ensured that he did not give evidence at the trial. Had he given evidence, then there is little doubt that Thorpe would have been convicted. This was a deeply corrupt act, which was supposed to be thoroughly investigated by Operation Velum.
To quote the Mail on Sunday:
“Instead of shining a light on who was behind this claim of frankly outrageous evidence tampering, Operation Velum instead went all out to prosecute Meighan. “Little wonder he kept his mouth shut when detectives tried to interview him again”.
This is borne out by the Avon & Somerset Constabulary statement to the NYE in April 2018:
“Following disclosures by Dennis Meighan which came to light as a result of a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Avon & Somerset Police referred his allegations to the Independent Office for Police Complaint Commission (now the IOPC).
The IPCC determined that these circumstances should be locally investigated by the force.
Owing to the specific allegations concerning former Avon & Somerset staff, Gwent Police was asked to conduct a review which resulted in two members of the public being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The CPS concluded that as a result of this independent investigation, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with any criminal proceedings, including any for corruption by any serving or former Avon and Somerset officer.
Gwent Police has ensured all relevant parties have been updated on the outcome of their investigation.”
We would make two points about the highlighted passage:
- “Insufficient evidence” of police corruption by Avon and Somerset officers is not the same thing as “no evidence” of police corruption by Avon & Somerset,
- The statement does not rule out or even mention the possibility of corruption by MI5 officers, or police officers from other forces, specifically the Metropolitan Police.
What has Operation Velum achieved?
In July 1978 The Right Honourable The Lord Hain PC, was a Labour activist. He wrote a private memo to the labour leadership shortly before Thorpe was charged. Hain correctly assessed that Thorpe was about to be charged and stated:
“There is also clear evidence that leading politicians over the past 15 years, together with civil servants, the police and the security services, have been party to a cover-up surrounding the affair.” 
To quote Peter Bessell, the former Liberal MP who was the main prosecution witness at Thorpe’s trial in 1979:
“Indisputably there was a deliberate cover-up, or a series of cover-ups, for almost eighteen years of Jeremy’s relationship with Scott. Certain ministers of the Crown, branches of the security Services and more than one police force knew about the cover-up and took no action to prevent it.” 
Operation Velum has provided no explanation is given as to why Avon & Somerset did not submit all of Meighan’s evidence to the DPP, or why Meighan did not appear as a witness at the trial, which would certainly have ensured that the accused and Meighan were convicted. There is no denial that evidence was discovered of police corruption or of undue interference on the investigation. There is no denial of Meighan’s key allegation that his original statement containing all his evidence was substituted for one which supressed most of his evidence.
There is no explanation for the failure of the original Avon & Somerset investigations into both attempts to assassinate Norman Scott.
Although the fingerprints of MI5 are all over the Thorpe affair, there is no mention of MI5 anywhere in the Operation Velum statements. By any objective impartial assessment, this just beggars belief.
The conclusion is inevitable that Operation Velum is just another cover-up in the Jeremy Thorpe affair.
Andrew Parker, Director General of MI5
Not commenting on the role of MI5 in the Thorpe affair.
Has he ordered Avon & Somerset Constabulary and Gwent Police
to exempt MI5 from investigation by Operation Velum?
Where does this leave Gwent Police, Avon & Somerset Constabulary, and Operation Velum?
The police must act openly “without fear or favour” to maintain public confidence particularly in cases involving allegations of misconduct by senior politicians, policemen and MI5. This is in the best interests of both the Police Service and the Security Service.
Large sums of tax payer’s money have been spent on Operation Velum. The public have a right to know what it discovered and if there was any undue influence brought to bear on the original investigation, or on Operation Velum. All the recent investigations into allegations of historical crimes by politicians have been open and provided a comprehensive statement on closure to explain the outcome of the investigation. The only exception has been Operation Velum.
Other than a few short press statements giving minimal information, Operation Velum was quietly closed. Only investigative journalists have further unravelled the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, not the police. Confirming the necessity of a free press in a democratic society.
The conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges does not prevent Avon & Somerset Constabulary from making an open statement about the Thorpe Affair. As Wiltshire Police did about the allegations against Sir Edward Heath.
The credibility of Operation Velum as an investigation into allegations of corruption and undue influence in the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, and the ability of both Gwent Police and Avon and Somerset Constabulary to conduct such an investigation impartially and with integrity are now in tatters.
With every failure like Operation Velum, the public trust in the police is further eroded.
Gwent Police and Avon & Somerset Constabulary were provided with a draft of this article but did not comment.
Sources Wikipedia article.  BBC article or program.  Guardian article  Channel Four program  Federal Bureau of Investigation  Daily Telegraph article  Daily Mail article  Jeremy Thorpe by Michel Bloch  “A Very English Scandal. Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment”, by John Preston.