on Arthur Maundy-Gregory
Two more reflections on
this man's life which so impinges on our noble
reopen the file on Lloyd George's arch fixer
By Ben Fenton 15/07/2006
Scotland Yard detectives investigating the alleged sale of peerages are
studying the historical records of the only man ever convicted under
the 80-year-old law forbidding the abuse of honours.
The Metropolitan Police requested that its own file on John
Maundy-Gregory, which was transferred to the National Archives in Kew
only in 2002, be sent back so detectives could study details of the
The documents were retrieved from the archives at the beginning of
April and ever since officers have been studying the case of Gregory,
possibly the most corrupting influence on British politics in the
entire 20th century.
Among those he entwined in a web of huge bribes and dodgy titles was,
according to previously unpublished documents in Kew, F E Smith, by
then the Earl of Birkenhead, one of the great statesmen of his day and
a former Lord Chancellor.
According to a sworn court statement by his own accountant, in 1929 the
monocle-wearing Gregory paid Lord Birkenhead, a high-living man without
a high income, £20,000 (about £750,000 at today's values) in return for
a knighthood being conferred on Julien Cahn, the cricket-loving heir to
a furniture fortune. Gregory had charged Cahn £100,000 (£3.7 million).
However, police today are unlikely to find much of use in the file,
because Gregory was persuaded by Tory grandees in 1933 to change his
plea to guilty and not to name names.
Gregory's cash had gone to both of the main political parties in Lloyd
George's coalition government, which was brought down by an uproar over
the wholly corrupt 1922 honours list.
In return for his silence, Gregory received a minimum sentence of two
months in Wormwood Scrubs and a £50 fine - as well as a £2,000 pension
believed to have been paid out of the funds of companies friendly to
the Conservative Party.
But Scotland Yard will need to study the case because it is the only
such prosecution on record, a source told The Daily Telegraph.
A senior detective, not involved in the investigation, said: "All our
investigations rest on case law and they will be looking to see what
kind of evidence was gathered and what stuck.
"Especially in a case where there have been no prosecutions for such a
long time, you have to look at the precedents."
Gregory was one of the most extraordinary characters of the last 100
years, although he prospered by keeping a low profile and remained
discreet even at the moment of his conviction for selling honours in
He began his political career as an intermediary between wealthy men
wanting knighthoods or peerages and Lloyd George's cash-strapped
coalition government in 1918, when he was theoretically a private in
the Irish Guards but probably working for the infant Security Service.
As a former actor and theatrical producer, he had built up numerous
contacts in London's night-time world and made a living providing the
capital's most important hotels with details about their prospective
guests as an insurance against scandal and bilking.
This ability to co-ordinate information networks apparently recommended
him to Sir Vernon Kell, the head of MI5 - as did the fact that
Gregory's father was a vicar in Southampton.
His network of informers in the hotels, nightclubs and theatres of
London was next used to help out the struggling Liberal Party.
Approached by Lord Murray, then chief whip, Gregory agreed to work
introducing some of the wealthy men he knew to the concept of cash for
A sliding scale of ennoblement was quickly put in place, with Gregory
charging £10,000 (£310,000 today) for a knighthood and £40,000 (£1.24
million) for a baronetcy.
It is estimated that between £1 million and £2 million (£31 million to
£62 million) ended up in the coffers of Lloyd George's Liberal Party
and his Conservative coalition partners as a result of the
cash-for-peerages operations of 1918-22, with Gregory, who handled the
majority of the cases, being paid the equivalent of about £3 million a
year for his services.
He used the money to buy the Ambassador Club in Soho and the Deepdene
Hotel in Dorking, Surrey.
The former was a "fast" place whose habitues included the Prince of
Wales and most of London's bored aristocratic young men. The latter was
a favoured destination for London businessmen to weekend with their
Both ran at a loss, but their value to Gregory lay in the constantly
running river of gossip and intrigue that passed through them.
It is still not known exactly which peerages, baronetcies and
knighthoods are owed to the greasing attentions of Gregory.
But his gravy train ran off the rails in 1927 when a new Unionist
government came into power and the party chairman, J C C Davidson, made
it his business to block anyone nominated for a peerage who had as much
as shaken hands with Gregory.
With his main source of income cut off and his businesses losing money,
he switched to the less lucrative sale of foreign honours, doling out
Greek, Serbian and Ukrainian honours obtained from the ruling houses of
those former sovereign states.
He also sold Catholic orders, most notably knighthoods of the Order of
the Holy Sepulchre, which he flogged to gullible and wealthy English
In 1930, trouble loomed when the estate of a baronet who had died
before receiving a promised peerage sued him for the return of £30,000
Gregory was now constantly on the lookout for money. First, he appears
to have persuaded Edith Rosse, the alcoholic ex-actress with whom he
had shared a home platonically for 10 years, to change her will. She
died mysteriously a few days later, leaving Gregory her entire £18,000
Then he inadvisedly offered a baronetcy for £12,000 (£444,000) to Lt
Cdr Billyard Leake, a friend of Lord Mountbatten, who went straight to
dictate a statement to the Solicitor General on Jan 27, 1933.
It was the passing of the 1925 Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act that
left Gregory open to prosecution for his previously legal activities.
Within four weeks, he had been charged and sentenced.
He got out of Wormwood Scrubs two months later and straightaway caught
the ferry to France. Documents in the National Archives show he had
debts totalling £22,000 (£814,000). But he lived very comfortably in
Paris before being imprisoned in a labour camp by the Germans in
Gregory died the following year, aged 64, rumoured still to be worth
millions, but actually penniless.
still keeps secrets of man jailed for selling peerages
By Ben Fenton 25/07/2006
MI5's personal file on the only man prosecuted for selling peerages is
still so sensitive that parts of it remain censored 73 years later.
The papers on John Maundy-Gregory, a flamboyant homosexual who
exploited his ownership of a nightclub and a hotel of ill-repute to
obtain damaging information about dozens of society figures in the
1920s and 30s, come to an abrupt halt in 1946.
The file's last pages are retained by MI5 under Section 3(4) of the
Public Records Act which make it unlikely that they will be seen for
decades to come, if ever. The thick file contains details of the
investigation of Maundy-Gregory, who had claimed to work for MI5. It
shows the establishment's concern about prosecuting a man who knew so
much about the shady workings of the honours system.
A memo in 1928 by John Davidson, the Conservative Party chairman, to
Sir Vernon Kell, the head of MI5, asks him to halt the shadowing of
Maundy-Gregory. It suggests he had so much dirt on so many important
people that prosecuting him under the 1925 Honours (Prevention of
Abuses) Act was out of the question.
"In view of the fact that neither the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney
General and the PM [Stanley Baldwin] believe that a prosecution is
practical politics, I don't see any reason for continuing any special
measures of surveillance. I wish we could have jugged the devil, but it
is clearly impossible."
Eight years later, Maundy-Gregory was facing charges after a clumsy
approach to a friend of the future Lord Mountbatten. Despite "practical
politics", a court case was inevitable, as is shown by a note to Kell
from a deputy who met the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Dated Feb 7, 1933, the note says: "Before any proceedings were set on
foot, Downing Street was consulted, and it was only after considerable
hesitation that the decision to proceed was taken."
The Attorney General had asked MI5 for information about anyone known
to "have been approached by Maundy-Gregory in the past with a view to
obtaining Honours through his good offices".
But two days later, presumably after the disgraced middleman had been
persuaded by Tory grandees to plead guilty, a different kind of note
appears in the MI5 file, which has lain unnoticed since its opening at
the National Archives, in Kew, in 2002. "DSS [Kell] saw DPP this
morning on this case, and it has been settled that the authorities will
not require any information in the possession of this office."
Another document says all MI5 material in connection with an
investigation of the peerages scandal by Sir Maurice Hankey, a former
Cabinet Secretary, was destroyed at Kell's instructions.
But the most revealing document follows an MI5 interview with Ivan
Korostovets, a former Russian diplomat who tried to enlist the maverick
Englishman to help in anti-Bolshevik activities. Korostovets realised
money raised by Maundy-Gregory for this cause went into his own pocket
and his Anglo-Ukrainian Fellowship was a front for further peerage
The Russian discovered that, in the eight years since the 1925 Act
stopped Maundy-Gregory's influence, he took £380,000 "without return"
and most of those paying for honours they would never get had "cut
their losses". He had handled the equivalent of £103 million in today's
Maundy-Gregory served two months in Wormwood Scrubs before moving to
Paris where he is reported to have been captured by the Nazis and to
have died in 1941.
Arthur Maundy Gregory: A Summary
Reforming the Lords
Lord Levy - not the fall guy
Lord Levy arrested
Lord Levy - schmoozing Labour into
Sleaze and political corruption
Bankrolling New Labour
Berlusconi & Blair
Police investigate loans for
Cash for Peerages Row
Cash for Peerages : A
Cash for questions
Ethos of corruption