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How Long Was John Stonehouse in Prison? Examining the Fallout From His Faked Death

In one of the most sensational scandals in 20th century British politics, MP John Stonehouse was caught up in a disastrous web of deceit after faking his own death in 1974 to escape financial and legal turmoil. The dramatic saga led to a grueling prison sentence once the truth came to light. So exactly how long did Stonehouse end up serving behind bars for this brazen act of fraud? Let’s analyze the repercussions faced by Stonehouse after his remarkable scheme unraveled.

Stonehouse’s Audacious Plan

By 1974, John Stonehouse had dug himself into a hole. Financial woes, business failures, ties to corrupt entities overseas, and an extramarital affair had the Labour MP ripe for public disgrace. So he hatched an outrageous plan – disappear completely by faking his own death and secretly start over with a new identity.

On November 20th, 1974, Stonehouse traveled to Miami, leaving a pile of clothes on a beach to give the appearance he had drowned. In reality, he escaped to Australia using a passport in the stolen identity of deceased former constituent Joseph Markham.

Stonehouse maintained this elaborate charade for several weeks, until Australian police caught him due to suspicious behavior. His deceit was finally exposed in all its shocking detail to the British public.

Political Fallout and Criminal Charges

Stonehouse’s actions created instant outrage and scandal across Britain’s political landscape upon being uncovered. Questions swirled over what secrets he was hiding and who may have aided his ploy.

As a member of Harold Wilson’s cabinet, his actions reflected poorly on Labour Party leadership during a turbulent economic crisis period. The scandal only added to instability within Wilson’s struggling government at the time.

Once returned to Britain in early 1975 after his asylum bid in Australia failed, Stonehouse resigned from Parliament. But his legal troubles were just beginning. Police sought criminal charges for his wide array of shady activities.

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Guilty Verdict and Prison Sentence

In August 1976, John Stonehouse stood trial at the Old Bailey in London on 18 counts of theft, fraud, forgery, conspiracy to defraud, causing a false police investigation and wasting police time. The charges related both to his fake death ruse and past financial misconduct.

After a dramatic trial unfolding all the decpetionStonehouse deployed in his schemes, the jury returned guilty verdicts on 15 of the 18 counts.

In sentencing, the judge rebuked Stonehouse for the “bizarre and tragic fantasy” he acted out in faking his death while also citing his corruption and fraud as an elected MP obligated to set an example.

For his multitude of crimes, Stonehouse received a total sentence of seven years in prison. He was denied option of early release and would have to serve the full term.

Timeline of Stonehouse’s Prison Stay

Here is a breakdown of how Stonehouse’s nearly seven year prison sentence unfolded:

  • August 1976 – After sentencing, Stonehouse was admitted to Wormwood Scrubs Prison in West London.
  • 1977 – Transferred to Ford Open Prison. This lower security facility allowed Stonehouse more free movement.
  • 1978 – Briefly moved to Blundeston Prison after being denied parole.
  • 1979 – Returned to Ford Open Prison.
  • August 1979 – Released after serving 3 years, then placed under house arrest due to good behavior.
  • October 1979 – Returned to prison after unauthorized press interviews violated his parole.
  • August 1981 – Finally released again after serving the complete 7 year term.

So while he did taste freedom temporarily thanks to parole in ’79 after just 3 years served, Stonehouse ultimately ended up incarcerated for the full 7 year sentence handed down to him, minus a couple months shaved off for good behavior.

Why Didn’t Stonehouse Get an Earlier Release?

In the UK, well-behaved prisoners can typically apply for parole and early release once a third of their sentence is served. But the nature of Stonehouse’s crimes made his chances at getting the parole board’s approval very unlikely.

Several factors worked against him:

  • Severity of the fraud charges related to his fake death plot.
  • Violating public trust as an elected official.
  • Lack of remorse shown during trial.
  • Previous denied applications while imprisoned.
  • Violating initial parole through press interviews.

So while prisoners in the 1970s often served only a third of their term or less, Stonehouse’s unique case kept him behind bars until the very end of his 7 year punishment.

What Was Prison Life Like for Stonehouse?

Stonehouse kept extensive diaries during his prison years later published as a memoir. They painted a complex picture of his incarceration experience:

  • He struggled watching his wife and children move on in life without him as he felt forgotten behind bars.
  • Having been a powerful MP, the dramatic loss of freedom and privacy was a blow to his ego.
  • He gravitated towards advising fellow inmates and assisting in legal matters.
  • He relentlessly protested various grievances with the prison authority through formal complaints.
  • He participated in educational and recreational programs when able.
  • His outgoing nature allowed him to befriend both inmates and staffers to gain privileges.
  • Reading, writing letters, playing chess and tennis helped pass the time.
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Stonehouse endured many difficulties in prison, from isolation to threats of violence. But his intelligence and social abilities helped secure more favorable treatment than other inmates received. Still, he found the lengthy separation from family and career difficult as his power and prestige slipped away.

Life After Prison

Following his release from prison in August 1981, John Stonehouse lived the next two decades quietly before dying in 1988 at age 62:

  • Lived modestly in a flat and struggled to find steady work due to notoriety.
  • Published multiple books recounting his fake death scheme and prison diaries.
  • Married his mistress Sheila Buckley in 1981, who supported him financially until his death.
  • Diagnosed with colon cancer in 1987, he died from a heart attack the following year.

Stonehouse flirted with attempting a political comeback in the early ’80s but his criminal past made this improbable. While the brevity of his freedom and declining health limited what he could achieve after release, the former MP managed to turn his bizarre downfall into something of an illicit personal brand for some time.

Why the Case Still Resonates

The outrageous details of John Stonehouse’s attempt to fake his own death and escape his problems in 1974 continue to fascinate. Elements that capture public imagination:

  • The daring lengths he went to pull off such an implausible scheme.
  • The “back from the dead” shock when he was discovered alive.
  • The rapid collapse after seeming to briefly succeed in his deception.
  • The embarrassment it caused the Labour government already under pressure.

While clearly an unethical abuse of power and betrayal of public trust, the 2010 novel Stonehouse and 2022 TV series starring Matthew Macfayden reintroduced the bizarre tale to new audiences. Few disappeared from power so dramatically and with such panache only to face a steep downfall upon resurfacing.

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Conclusion

When Labour MP John Stonehouse faked his own drowning death in Miami 1974, he set off an unbelievable chain of events that would culminate in his imprisonment once the attempted escape from scandal was exposed. His brazen deception earned him a 7 year jail sentence for the fake death fraud and related financial crimes. Denied early parole, Stonehouse ended up serving the maximum term imposed.

His stint behind bars cost Stonehouse his family life, political career, and reputation. Though ultimately released in 1981 after the nearly 7 year incarceration, the repercussions dogged him up until his death in 1988. The prison years provide a moral epilogue to a saga borne out of greed, lies, and fantasy. Stonehouse’s dramatic rise, fall, and time served stands as a case study in how prominent public figures can destroy themselves when corruption and reality collide.

FAQ About John Stonehouse and His Prison Sentence

What political office did John Stonehouse hold?

Stonehouse was a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Labour Party in the UK from 1957 until resigning in 1976 due to the fake death scandal.

What was Stonehouse’s motivation for faking his own death?

He was facing financial ruin, damaging news stories connecting him to corrupt overseas entities, and wanted to secretly be with his mistress. Faking his death allowed him to escape these problems and start fresh with a new identity.

How long was he originally sentenced to in prison?

Stonehouse received a 7 year prison sentence for the variety of fraud, theft, and deception charges stemming from his fake death plot and related financial misconduct as an MP.

Where did Stonehouse serve his prison time?

Most of his sentence was spent at Wormword Scrubs and Ford Open Prison. He had brief stints at other facilities but served primarily at those two.

When was Stonehouse finally released from prison?

Stonehouse completed his full 7 year sentence and was released in August 1981 after serving just under the full term handed down to him.

What became of Stonehouse after he was released?

He lived quietly, married his mistress, published books about his schemes, struggled to find work, dealt with illness, and died in 1988 at age 62, just 7 years after getting out of prison.

Imran Khan

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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