Antony Grey had met Eric J. Thompson, who became his life partner in 1960 when they were both living in Belsize Park, North London. By the early 1970s Eric, specialising in population planning, had become Chairman of the Census Research Group and Assistant Director of the Greater London Council (‘GLC’) Intelligence Unit and the pair had moved to Uplands Road in Hornsey/Crouch End, N8. Antony and Eric also sat on the Executive Committee of the Defence of Literature & Arts Society (‘DLAS’) together with familiar names such as Lord Winstanley. Since renamed the Campaign Against Censorship (‘CAC’) the group was originally formed in 1968 to campaign against laws on censorship.
In 1968 Eric also joined Grey at the National Council of Civil Liberties, not on the Executive Committee but on the Standing Orders Committee (‘SOC’) which met four times a year to consider motions to put forward to the Executive Committee for the AGM each year.
In 1972 Tony Smythe had resigned as General Secretary of NCCl to become field director of the American Civil Liberties Union and Martin Loney was appointed on 28 January 1973. Born in Bradford, Leeds, Loney had graduated from Durham University in Sociology and was working as Research Director for the World University Service in Geneva.
Loney, then aged 28, had barely been in position for a fortnight, appointed as General Secretary of NCCL in May 1973 when Thompson wrote to him regarding affiliation with individual branches of the National Association of Local Government Officers (‘NALGO’) which Thompson as a GLC employee was a member of.
In the NCCL Annual Report 1973/1974 the Council believed that Northern Ireland was being used as
with serious implications for Britain beyond the immediate concerns of ‘the troubles’ in that the ‘experiments’ may cross the Irish Sea.
In September Patricia Hewitt joined NCCL has the first Women’s Rights Officer. [Liberty Begins at home, Guardian 12 December 1974]
Lennon had been on trial for the Winson Green plot in Birmingham Crown Court on Monday 8 April, acquitted while his co-defendant was jailed for 3 years. Court testimony that Lennon had been “frank and honest with the police when they asked him questions” alerted the IRA to the fact that Lennon had been a Special Branch informer.
On Tuesday 9 April he ended up on Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and over a brandy told George Melly his rambling story of being blackmailed by Special Branch into informing on the IRA following being approached in Luton, Bedfordshire on the hospital steps where his wife was being treated for brain tumours. Born in Ulster, Lennon and his family came from a staunchly Republican border town Co. Down. Melly suggested Lennon tell the NCCL his story and so the very next day, Wednesday 9 April, Martin Loney and NCCL legal officer Larry Grant found themselves taking a 17 page statement from Lennon as he recounted the events of Special Branch’s blackmail on him to enter into various illegal escapades while informing on the IRA.
By Thursday 10 April Lennon had been shot in the back of the head and was found face down in a ditch in Chipstead, Surrey.
On 16 April, 3 hours before NCCL called a press conference to demand a full-scale Parliamentary Inquiry into the activities of Special Branch in the days before Lennon’s murder a call was received at their offices threatening to kill 2 members of NCCL staff before the end of the week. Loney pressed on regardless with the press conference.
On Thursday 7 June, Loney was sacked by the Executive Committee of NCCL chaired by Henry Hodge. Only 5 of the Executive Committee were shocked at the sudden turn of events.
Dr Jock Young, a lecturer in Criminology at Middlesex Polytechnic, resigned immediately sending a letter to the EC stating
“In all my years of political activity, I have never seen such a vicious hatchet job as that carried out on the NCCL General Secretary last night. If that is your committee’s idea of civil liberties, I’m glad to be out of it” [NCCL Split over sacking, Guardian, June 8 1974]
Mr Morris Pollack didn’t resign but started to gather the 50 signatures needed to call an Emergency General Meeting to condemn the EC’s action led by Hodge and ask for Loney’s reinstatement. Those employed by the NCCL as staff (as opposed to the Executive Committee) were also very unhappy about the way in which the decision had been reached and executed.
Tony Smythe, Director of MIND, had left the sacking meeting before the vote took place saying “I moved a motion to get everyone to withdraw their resolutions. It seemed to me that a bit of reconciliation was necessary. A number of very trivial arguments were put forward as reasons for the dismissal.”
After the meeting Loney said the E.C led by Hodge had “behaved with the sophistication of a drunk on a bulldozer.” He said his dismissal had been pre-arranged and that Hodge, as Chairman, had only called the meeting because Loney had refused to be pressured into resigning privately. “I would not do the gentlemanly thing and resign. I thought the NCCL members should have a chance to know what was going on.”
19 June 1974: The ‘Emergency General Meeting’ & the Grey/Thompson machinations
By Wednesday 19 June over 50 NCCL members had requested a ‘Special General Meeting’ to ask why Loney had been sacked. 181 individual members attended the meeting and 139 voting cards were issued to affiliated organisations. The meeting opened at 10.30am with Henry Hodge in his role as Chairman of the E.C. of the NCCL. Eric Thompson and Antony Grey attended, quietly seething at Hodge’s ineptness at losing control of Loney.
By 11.45 am the following motion had been tabled to be carried – the rest of the day was spent with various factions trying to amend or dilute the condemnation of the NCCL Executive Committee’s actions by its members in order to prevent Hodge and the 11 other Executive Committee members who had ejected Loney from being deposed with a vote of no confidence.
“Motion by various members requesting the Special General Meeting:
“At a time of increasing attacks on the fundamentals of liberty this Emergency General Meeting reaffirms the need for a militant civil liberties organisation. This meeting deplores the irresponsible behaviour of those members of the Executive Committee responsible for the sacking of the General Secretary. In view of:
a) the adverse consequence this had in the Council’s political credibility and financial solvency;
b) the divisive effect this has had on the Council;
c) the absence of any reasoned explanation for this action;
this meeting declares its lack of confidence in those Executive Committee members responsible. This meeting recognises that the National Council of Civil Liberties faces a difficult financial situation and commits itself to fight to preserve and extend the NCCL so that it can continue to play a key role in the defence of civil liberties.”
In Eric Thompson’s report to Mr Crampton, dated 25 October 1974 it becomes apparent how the Emergency General Meeting was manipulated. In the confusion of a group walking out and then returning Eric Thompson took the opportunity to move his amending motion to the above, seconded by Antony Grey (as Edgar Wright) which was carried:
Delete all after ‘deplores’ on line 3 and substitute:
This meeting deplores:
“the increasing weakness of the Council over the last two years and calls on the EC to take tighter control over the office and to give priority to building up a strong parliamentary civil liberties group and an active national civil liberties campaign.”
Having averted Hodge and the EC’s deposal Antony and Eric wrote a scathing joint letter to Hodge to make it clear they had ‘rescued’ the NCCL Executive Committee.
Together they reminded Hodge “the giving of priority to building up a strong and active Civil Liberties Group of MPs” should be acted on before the next AGM in April 1975 and that they had asked him and the EC to take “tighter control over the office”.
“We trust that you will be able to give the next AGM a positive report on all the above points, and that from now on there will be no divisiveness in making the NCCL into the strong and successful force which it must be if everyone’s civil liberties are to be safeguarded.”
As was to become the focus of the NCCL Gay Rights’ Committee in 1975, everyone’s civil liberties would include those of pedophiles as a priority.
On 28 November 2007 a curious comment was left under an article about Labour Party funding on The Guardian website by a Martin Loney, PhD:
In November 1974 the Starrit Report was published clearing Special Branch of any wrong-doing in relation to Lennon’s murder, the Paedophile Information Exchange was established, and Patricia Hewitt was confirmed as General Secretary of the NCCL (having been Acting GS since Loney’s undignified ejection). [Liberty Begins at home, Guardian 12 December 1974]