John Stonehouse: who was Labour MP that faked his death and who was his mistress Sheila Buckley?

John Stonehouse is the subject of the ITV drama Stonehouse, as well as last year’s Channel 4 documentary The Spy Who Died Twice

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A new ITV drama, Stonehouse, dramatises the life of British MP and alleged spy John Stonehouse. The series, which sees Matthew Macfadyen play the infamous MP, is accompanied by a documentary called The Real Stonehouse - which itself follows last year’s Channel 4 documentary The Spy Who Died Twice.

Stonehouse is most famous for faking his own death in the 1970s - but what happened to him after that event, did he go to prison, and was he a Soviet spy?

Here is everything you need to know:

Who was John Stonehouse?

John Stonehouse faked his own death in the 1970s John Stonehouse faked his own death in the 1970s
John Stonehouse faked his own death in the 1970s

Stonehouse was born in Southampton in 1925 and joined the Labour Party when he was 16. He became a Labour Co-operative MP for Wednesbury in Staffordshire in a 1957 by-election.

Stonehouse had a successful career in politics speaking against the white minority government in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1950s, and rising through the ranks of the British Colonial Office. Stonehouse married Barbara Joan Smith in 1948, with whom he had two daughters and a son. The couple divorced in 1978.

In 1969, Stonehouse first encountered allegations that he was a spy for Czechoslovakia, a satellite state of the Soviet Union, although he defended himself against the assertion. In 2010 it was revealed that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed to cover up the knowledge that Stonehouse was a spy because there was not enough evidence to bring him to trial.

Why did John Stonehouse fake his own death?

 John Stonehouse with his Czech handler Robert Husak John Stonehouse with his Czech handler Robert Husak
John Stonehouse with his Czech handler Robert Husak

In 1974, Stonehouse left a pile of clothes by a Miami beach, in an effort to deceive people into thinking that he had drowned. Stonehouse then travelled to Australia to start a new life under the name Clive Midoon with his mistress and former secretary Sheila Buckley, whom he married in 1978.

When Stonehouse began transferring large sums of money between bank accounts using false identities, he attracted the attention of the authorities. Stonehouse was eventually arrested in Melbourne and deported back to the UK, where he remained a Labour MP because the party did not expel him, owing to their narrow majority in the House of Commons.

He was eventually charged  with 21 charges of fraud, theft, forgery, conspiracy to defraud, causing a false police investigation and wasting police time, and sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud in 1976. Stonehouse was released from prison early in 1979, having suffered three heart attacks whilst inside.

Following his release, Stonehouse joined the Social Democratic Party, wrote three books and made several appearances on radio and TV. In 1988, Stonehouse suffered a major heart attack at his home in Totton and died in hospital.

What is The Real Stonehouse about?

The ITV documentary The Real Stonehouse, which accompanies the Matthew Macfadyen drama Stonehouse, will investigate the claims that Stonehouse was a spy for the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. It will also cover his decision to fake his own death and his subsequent arrest.

Where can I watch The Real Stonehouse Twice on TV?

The Real Stonehouse will air on ITV1 on Thursday 5 January at 9pm, in the same timeslot previously occupied by Stonehouse. You might also be interested in The Spy Who Died Twice, a documentary about Stonehouse which aired on Channel 4 at 9pm on 9 May 2022. Since then, it has been available to watch on All 4 shortly after it is first broadcast.

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