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Remembered Today:

The Plot to Kill Lloyd George


susan kitchen

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Can anyone tell me if they have read the book The Plot to Kill Lloyd George By Nicola Rippon. About Alice Wheeldon and her family from Deryshire. I caught the tail end of a discussion about Alice on the radio the other day. For anyone who hasn't heard of her. Alice and her family helped conscientious objectors escape from camps where they were being held.From what little i heard in 1917 she was involved in a plot to kill Lloyd George and imprisoned. She was released and died of flu in 1919. At the moment a relative from Australia is trying to get Alice pardoned. How she thinks she will achieve this is anyone's guess. Think the book was published a couple of years ago.

If anyone has read it i'd be interested to hear what they thought of it.

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I haven't read 'The Plot To Kill Lloyd George' but have noticed how the Alice Wheeldon trial is covered quite sympathetically ( to the Wheeldon family) in 'To End All Worlds-How The First World War Divided Britain' by Adam Hoschild (2011)

I also have a copy of Sheila Rowbotham's 'Friends of Alice Wheeldon ' (play from 1986) with a good third of the book taken up by an essay titled 'Rebel Networks in the First World War'. I have not quite got to round to reading it.

Interesting to hear that there could be a campaign to pardon her. On what basis?

Regards

Michael Bully

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According to wiki poison sent to her was intercepted and then she was charged with attempting to murder Lloyd George.

Seems a bit of a stretch,perhaps that's the reason for the pardon attempt ie lack of evidence.

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If the NYT report of the trial is correct http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50616FF3F5E11738DDDA80994DB405B878DF1D3 they certainly got a right lulu for a defence council. I note that there appear to be blog campaigns on this - whether to obtain a pardon, sell the book or for other reasons I won't break forum rules by commenting.

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That's an incredible account, thanks Centurion. I have never heard of a Defence lawyer proposing 'trial by ordeal' be brought back before- if the NYT account can be taken at face value.

It seems that the Sheila Rowbotham play 'Friends of Alice Wheeldon' was first performed in 1970 with some Folk music.

If the NYT report of the trial is correct http://query.nytimes...4DB405B878DF1D3 they certainly got a right lulu for a defence council. I note that there appear to be blog campaigns on this - whether to obtain a pardon, sell the book or for other reasons I won't break forum rules by commenting.

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That's an incredible account, thanks Centurion. I have never heard of a Defence lawyer proposing 'trial by ordeal' be brought back before- if the NYT account can be taken at face value.

It would appear that records are available at TNA so it must be possible to check. Perhaps the Wikileaks guy will ask for trial by combat and hire a champion - certainly be more entertaining than X factor or Britain's got Talent

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Can anyone tell me if they have read the book The Plot to Kill Lloyd George By Nicola Rippon. About Alice Wheeldon and her family from Derbyshire. I caught the tail end of a discussion about Alice on the radio the other day. For anyone who hasn't heard of her. Alice and her family helped conscientious objectors escape from camps where they were being held.

Sorting fact from fiction in an affair such as that of Alice Wheeldon and her family is always difficult.

One fiction is that the family helped conscientious objectors "escape from camps where they were being held". The only "camps" used for COs were the Work Camps set up under the Home Office Scheme. The COs entered the Camps on their written agreement, and were free to formally cancel that agreement at any time, or to cancei it informally by simply walking out - there were no locked gates or guards. Therefore there was no need to help anyone to escape - "absconding" would be the appropriate term for walking out.

The family certainly supported COs, and with good reason, because Alice's son, William Wheeldon, was a CO. He went "on the run", rather than allow himself to be arrested. It has been suggested that because of this experience she was unaware of the way the Work Camps operated, and allowed herself to be persuaded by an agent provocateur that COs were guarded by dogs, and the dogs could be dealt with by poison. The poison sent to her through the post by her son-in-law, Alfred Mason, working in a chemist's shop in Southampton, was supposedly for this purpose. The prosecution, led by F E Smith, later Earl of Birkenhead, connected it with adverse comments made by the family about the belligerent David Lloyd George.

The proper, and only feasible, procedure for any review of the case would be via the Criminal Cases Review Commission, but there was no mention of that in the Woman's Hour discussion; but, then, that discussion was so diffuse as not to help anyone without prior knowledge to learn anything coherent about the case.

One side issue that has received very little mention is that William Wheeldon's peregrinations eventually led him to the emerging Soviet Union, where he disappeared without trace until the early 1990s. With the opening up of the Soviet archives it was discovered that he had been put in a gulag, and then executed about 1927.

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The prosecution, led by F E Smith, later Earl of Birkenhead, connected it with adverse comments made by the family about the belligerent David Lloyd George.

Saying that she hoped Lloyd George and Henderson would soon be dead seems a bit stronger than an adverse comment.

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I put my review on Amazon three years ago:

"Nicola Rippon's "The plot to kill Lloyd George" focuses on the prosecution of a number of members of Derby's Wheeldon family. Involved in anti-war activities and harbouring conscientious objectors, there were also rumours of their involvement in the June 1914 "suffragette" burning of Breadsall church. The Wheeldon's naturally attracted attention of the authorities. Even so, it came as a surprise to many in Derby in January 1917 to find them being tried on suspicion of a plot to poison David Lloyd George and others. Proceedings began initially in Derby but were soon moved to London.

Drawing upon local, newspaper and official accounts, the author follows the development of the case at court. In the atmosphere of the day, with the prosecution being led by the Attorney-General Sir Frederick Smith (later Lord Birkenhead) and the defence in the hands of the unknown Saiyid Haidan Riza (variously described at the time as "a dark-skinned Hindu" or "Persian" or "of Indian extraction"), one would not hold out great hopes for the Wheeldon's. Yet as the case unfolds, and while there is no doubt that the Wheeldon's were actively promoting socialism and helping some (who may have genuinely been conscientious objectors) to avoid military service, the evidence of plots and of murdering is clearly paper thin. Much of the discussion was centred on the provision of a quantity of poison, which the Wheeldon's maintained was for putting down some dogs.

The case became rather more intriguing and shocking when it became apparent that to some extent the family had been set up or coerced by shady characters acting for the government, particularly one Alec or Alex Gordon. The motivations and identities of these agents provocateurs were never fully explored in court, nor was the "system" that controlled them.

Despite the evidence and the set-up, family ringleader Alice Wheedon was found guilty and sentenced to ten years penal servitude. Two other members of the family were found guilty of conspiracy, being given seven and five years.

While in prison, Alice went on hunger strike, bringing about all of the arguments about force-feeding her. Lloyd George's office eventually intervened, suggesting that the Prime Minister was insistent that Alice must not die while in prison. Headlines of her death, coupled with widespread unease at the conviction, would have been political dynamite.She was released, after only nine months. Sadly, Alice died in February 1919.

This is an incredible story, and one that I had never heard of. The twists and unwrapping of the evidence in court make for fascinating reading and are well presented by the author - yet I was in some ways left unsatisfied by "The plot to kill Lloyd George". Very serious questions remain unanswered: was there a family plot at all - or was it just a government plot to discredit theh British left? Why, assuming that the family were framed by the establishment, were they selected - there were plenty of others? If the establishment meant to send them down, why was much stronger evidence not concocted? I would have liked to have seen the author, who presumably had researched the story comprehensively (although the sources quoted leave a little to be desired in terms of detail) and knows more than most about this case, make her own judgments."

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According to Alice Wheeldon's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the family communicated in code, "using a chessboard cipher with the key sentence ‘We will hang Lloyd George from a sour apple tree.’"

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Very serious questions remain unanswered: was there a family plot at all - or was it just a government plot to discredit theh British left? Why, assuming that the family were framed by the establishment, were they selected - there were plenty of others? If the establishment meant to send them down, why was much stronger evidence not concocted? I would have liked to have seen the author, who presumably had researched the story comprehensively (although the sources quoted leave a little to be desired in terms of detail) and knows more than most about this case, make her own judgments."

Certainly if it was a government 'stitch up' it was an incompetent one as one member of the family was found not guilty.

I do get the impression that if they had had the sense to choose a better barrister the outcome might have been different

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRIgordonA.htm

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If the NYT report of the trial is correct http://query.nytimes...4DB405B878DF1D3 they certainly got a right lulu for a defence council. I note that there appear to be blog campaigns on this - whether to obtain a pardon, sell the book or for other reasons I won't break forum rules by commenting.

The report is substantially correct. In fairness to defence counsel, the point I think he was trying to make was that without the agent provocateur Alec Gordon being produced as a witness, and, in particular, being available for cross-examination, the trial was as worthless as if it were a trial by ordeal.

Some "stunts" pulled by counsel pay off. Some do not. You pay your money and you take your choice.

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MB -from what I have read, this seems to be the most questionable element in the Prosecution case, the fact that their star witness was not produced.

Personally I don't quite understand why Alice Wheeldon was trying to get hold of poison. If she was involved in some sort of political activist network against the war, then the whole notion of poisoning guard dogs to assist CO's in camps seems far fetched. Where were the hounds that she was seeking to poison?

I firmly agree that the burden of proof should be on the Prosecution and there probably are grounds for quashing the conviction more on the basis that it was unsafe: I can only go on what I have read so far but neither the Prosecution nor the Defence argument seem credible.

A couple of times the idea of a 'pardon' has been raised in this discussion. I thought that a 'pardon' applies where a defendant is recognised as 'guilty' but the legal system is showing clemency, yet the conviction still stands.

Regards, Michael Bully

The report is substantially correct. In fairness to defence counsel, the point I think he was trying to make was that without the agent provocateur Alec Gordon being produced as a witness, and, in particular, being available for cross-examination, the trial was as worthless as if it were a trial by ordeal.

Some "stunts" pulled by counsel pay off. Some do not. You pay your money and you take your choice.

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Some "stunts" pulled by counsel pay off. Some do not. You pay your money and you take your choice.

No,I suspect that a council with some experience would not be trying to pull off a stunt as fatuous as that but would have been able to raise some really serious legal argument long before. That's what you get if you choose your brief on the grounds of his political leanings rather than his experience and competency.

The Wheeldons do appear to have been seriously silly, possibly a soft target?

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I don't quite understand why Alice Wheeldon was trying to get hold of poison. If she was involved in some sort of political activist network against the war, then the whole notion of poisoning guard dogs to assist CO's in camps seems far fetched. Where were the hounds that she was seeking to poison?

As I tried to explaIn in my post of 10 January, the "guard dogs" were a fiction of Alec Gordon. To put it at its simplest, Alice and her family were closely involved in the CO network. As her son, William Wheeldon, was a CO who went on the run after his first term of imprisonment rather than play the "cat and mouse" game with the army, they were more concerned with COs of that ilk than with COs who accepted the Home Office Scheme.

Alec Gordon came to Alice posing as a CO on the run, and invented a "cock and bull" story that COs "on the Scheme" were held in the Work Camps by vicious guard dogs. If poison were obtained to deal with the dogs, COs could be helped to escape. Alice, presumably because she had never dealt with COs on the Scheme, was naiive enough to believe Gordon, without checking with anyone else, and arranged for her-son-in-law Alfred Mason, husband of her daughter Winnie and himself a CO, who worked in a chemist's shop in Southampton, to send some poison through the post. This was intercepted by the authorities, tipped off by Gordon, and linked with Alice's intemperate remarks about Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson as evidence of a conspiracy to kill them.

Because Gordon was never produced as a witness, his part could never be tested in court, and, in particular, the whole myth of the "guard dogs".

As to wishing the b......s dead, if everyone who said something similar about a certain woman prime minister (or other prime ministers or Labour leaders) were to be put in the dock, it would take more than a carpenter, a few planks and an hour or two to make the dock large enough, as was done in one case, to my knowledge, in 1975.

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Thanks MB for your eloquent explanation of the Alice Wheeldon case. Yes, from what you wrote , it seems that there is a strong possibility that Alice Wheeldon and fellow defendants were deliberately entrapped by the authorities re the 'guard dogs' claim. And the absence of the star witness for the Prosecution casts serious doubts over the conviction. Regards, Michael Bully

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have had another look at 'To End All Wars-How The First World War Divided Britain' by Adam Hoschild (2011), This writer maintains that the Prosecution case was that Alice Wheeldon got hold of poison to make a poison dart which was going to be used against Lloyd George via a blow pipe.

Furthermore that Alex Gordon , the main Prosecution witness who was not called, had a police record, was once found criminally insane.

Taking that at face value, I think that are grounds to argue that the conviction of Alice Wheeldon et al was unsafe. But my usual complaint with the above work is that the writer is incredibly lax in places in citing his source material -applies again.

By the way MB , re. post #7- wasn't Willie Wheeldon most likely to have vanished in the Gulag in 1937 rather than 1927 ?

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By the way MB , re. post #7- wasn't Willie Wheeldon most likely to have vanished in the Gulag in 1937 rather than 1927 ?

Although not officially called the Gulag until 1930 the camps were up and running long before and in 1927 there were about 30,000 political prisoners in them. see the Gulag Archipelago Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Sure Centurion but I thought that Willie Wheeldon fell victim to one of Stalin's purges against foreigners which would be more likely in 1937? Being a foreign born Communist was no protection against Stalin's paranoria .

Regards, Michael Bully

Although not officially called the Gulag until 1930 the camps were up and running long before and in 1927 there were about 30,000 political prisoners in them. see the Gulag Archipelago Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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The actual reason for Willie Wheeldon's execution is not clear from the Archive which was discovered c 1992, but there was no reason to suppose that it was a specific Stalin 'purge', and the date was definitely in the late1920s, not the late 1930s.

I need to correct one earlier error on my part. Alf Mason's work was a lab assistant at a college in Southampton, not an assistant in a chemist's shop.

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Sure Centurion but I thought that Willie Wheeldon fell victim to one of Stalin's purges against foreigners which would be more likely in 1937? Being a foreign born Communist was no protection against Stalin's paranoria .

Regards, Michael Bully

Lenin was only a nice guy by comparison with Stalin. It is the difference between some one who murdered thousands and one who murdered millions. There was an anti foreigner mood in the 1920s as well

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Yes, point taken Centurion, was not trying to imply that Lenin would not have been capable of organising the murder of a fellow Communist, ( along with political opponents) .

MB: I have gone back to Adam Hoschild's 'To End All Wars'. This writer claims that Willie Wheeldon was arrested on October 5th 1937, and sentenced to be shot on Christmas Day the same year.

In the writer's source notes, he acknowledges one Julian Hendy, who shared information from Willie Wheeldon's Comintern personal file.

Regards, Michael Bully

EDIT

BBC page on Wheeldon case

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-16621693

Lenin was only a nice guy by comparison with Stalin. It is the difference between some one who murdered thousands and one who murdered millions. There was an anti foreigner mood in the 1920s as well

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have gone back to Adam Hochschild's 'To End All Wars'. This writer claims that Willie Wheeldon was arrested on October 5th 1937, and sentenced to be shot on Christmas Day the same year. In the source notes he acknowledges one Julian Hendy, who shared information from Willie Wheeldon's Comintern personal file.

My source was an article in the Independent on Sunday by Michael Durham, 13 September 1992, reporting recent research by Dr Nicholas Hiley, then of Cambridge University (now of Kent University), who had been informed a couple of weeks previously by the Russian security ministry of a record that William Wheeldon had been arrested, sentenced to death, and shot. No details had been supplied "to explain why Wheeldon was executed, or exactly where or when he met his death". Chloe Mason, a descendant of Alf Mason, who with Winnie had emigrated to Australia, had commented that Willie had been "a good correspondent and wrote frequently from Russia for years. The letters got sadder and sadder." The letters stopped in 1928, and the family assumed that he had died in a great typhus epidemic in Russia around that time. With the news of the execution, the family retrospectively assumed that that was the reason for the sudden silence.

The more recent research of Julian Hendy, establishing arrest on 5 October 1937 and sentence of death on Christmas Day 1937 (the date of the execution is still unclear; perhaps the same day, or the next day), suggests that in the 1920s the Soviet authorities put increasing pressure on Willie to sever all contact with his family long before he was "disappeared" - so much for the value of the Soviet citizenship which he loyally, by his own lights, sought and received.

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Thank you for the extra information MB. See why both 1928 and 1937 are possible dates for Willie Wheeldon's death. Seems a sad tale . Regards.

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