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Did Stonehouse Go to Prison?

John Stonehouse was a British politician whose faked death and criminal enterprises eventually landed him a prison sentence. This convoluted scandal captivated Britain in the 1970s. But how did a cabinet minister end up behind bars? This article explores Stonehouse’s journey from prominence to prison.

Stonehouse’s Early Political Career

Before the infamous scandal, John Stonehouse had risen high in British politics:

  • He was born in 1925 and joined the Labour Party in the 1950s.
  • Stonehouse was elected a Member of Parliament for Walsall in 1957.
  • He gained ministerial positions including Minister of Aviation under Harold Wilson’s government.
  • As Postmaster General, he oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower in London in 1965.
  • But by the late 1960s he was facing financial difficulties and conducting extramarital affairs.

Stonehouse’s respectable public profile hid his turmoil behind the scenes.

The Dramatic Disappearance and Presumed Death

The first hints of Stonehouse’s misdeeds emerged in November 1974:

  • He faked his death by leaving clothes on a Miami beach to give the impression he drowned.
  • With documents identifying him as “Joseph Markham”, he began a new life in Australia.
  • But only a month later, Stonehouse was discovered alive and arrested by Australian police.
  • Speculation was rife he was a Soviet spy given his Communist ties and time in Czechoslovakia.
  • He was extradited back to Britain in early 1975 to face charges of fraud, theft, forgery and wasting police time.
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The bizarre affair gripped the nation and ended Stonehouse’s political ambitions.

The Motivations Behind the Elaborate Deception

Stonehouse’s reasons for the risky plot emerged during his trial:

  • To escape his financial problems and start fresh in Australia.
  • He had business links in Australia and visited frequently in the 1960s.
  • To flee from revelations over his private life – affairs and illegitimate families.
  • He began psychiatric treatment in October 1974 as the pressures mounted.
  • As a long-time Communist sympathizer, potential connections with Eastern bloc spies were suggested but never proven.

In the end, his scheme failed spectacularly.

The High Profile Criminal Trial

Stonehouse pleaded not guilty but was subjected to an extensive public trial:

  • The trial began in mid 1975 and ran for 68 days at the Old Bailey in London.
  • Television cameras were allowed for the first time, heightening public interest.
  • Stonehouse dismissed his defense team to represent himself – a move widely seen as arrogant.
  • On August 6th 1975, he was convicted on multiple counts of fraud, theft, forgery and deception.
  • He was sentenced to 7 years in prison at the high security Wormwood Scrubs.
  • An appeal in 1976 upheld the conviction and sentence.

For a frontbench MP, this very public downfall was unprecedented at the time.

Time Served in Prison

Despite his age and status, Stonehouse did hard time in various UK jails:

  • He began at Wormwood Scrubs in Hammersmith but complained of abuse from inmates.
  • After 18 months he was moved to Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight.
  • He reportedly went on hunger strike there after being denied writing materials.
  • Further time was spent at Blundeston Prison in Suffolk.
  • He was briefly hospitalized after a suspected heart attack in 1977.
  • Stonehouse was eventually released in August 1979 after serving only 3 years of his 7 year term.
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Prison life proved a harsh new reality compared to the prestige of Parliament.

His Political and Personal Decline

The scandal left Stonehouse’s reputation in tatters:

  • He divorced his first wife after returning from Australia and remarried.
  • His second wife, Sheila Buckley, had initially believed he was a spy not a fraudster.
  • On release from prison, Stonehouse lived with Buckley and wrote two books on the affair.
  • He announced plans to run for Parliament again but abandoned them after public mockery.
  • Stonehouse took various jobs selling jewelry and business directories abroad.
  • Increasingly eccentric in his last years, he died after a heart attack in 1988 aged 62.

The former high-flyer would never regain his standing after the public disgrace.


In summary, John Stonehouse’s faked death in 1974 backfired, leading to his conviction for fraud and a prison sentence that destroyed his political career. As an ambitious cabinet minister, his very public downfall and incarceration for deception was a sensational story. While he hoped to vanish in Australia, Stonehouse ended up with infamy in the UK as the prisoner politician whose web of lies put him behind bars.

Key Points:

  • John Stonehouse faked his death in 1974 but was exposed a month later.
  • He was convicted in 1975 of fraud, theft and deception.
  • Stonehouse was jailed for 7 years but served just 3 years.
  • Prison time included Wormwood Scrubs and Albany on the Isle of Wight.
  • The affair ruined his politics career and marriage.
  • He died in 1988 aged 62 after living his last years in disgrace.


What crimes was John Stonehouse convicted of?

Stonehouse was convicted of 18 counts including fraud, theft, forgery, wasting police time and using a false identity following his fake death scheme.

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Why did John Stonehouse fake his own death?

He was facing financial ruin and wanted to disappear and start a new life in Australia, also hoping to leave behind revelations about his private life affairs.

What prisons was John Stonehouse held at?

Stonehouse served prison time at Wormwood Scrubs, Albany on the Isle of Wight, and Blundeston. He complained of poor conditions and abuse from inmates.

When was John Stonehouse released from prison?

Stonehouse was sentenced to 7 years but only served around 3 years. He was released in August 1979, in poor health after a suspected heart attack in jail in 1977.

What became of John Stonehouse after being freed from prison?

After prison he got divorced, remarried, and wrote books about the fake death scandal. He unsuccessfully attempted a return to politics and took up jobs abroad. He died aged 62 in 1988.

Imran Khan

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