The Baronet, the call-girls and the cannabis - how a newspaper sting targeting Lord Lambton nearly brought down a Government

County Durham’s Lambton Estate has been making headlines for all the right reasons recently.

Sunday, 30th June 2019, 4:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 30th June 2019, 5:30 pm
Lord Lambton, the heir to the Lambton Estate in Washington (pictured) was embroiled in a sex scandal in the 1970s which saw him leave his government role

Work on the first phase of a landmark redevelopment of the Estate is under way, with Miller Homes North East working on a development which will fund conservation works across Lambton Park, including the restoration of Lambton Castle and its stables, as well as the iconic Lamb Bridge, and open up 15km of public footpaths in the previously private park.

The name Lambton was not always synonymous with such positive news, however.

Indeed, more than 40 years ago it was indelibly linked in the public mind with a scandal which almost brought down Edward Heath’s Tory government.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Anthony Lambton

Anthony Lambton, the second son of the fifth Earl of Durham, became Conservative MP for Berwick in 1951, even renouncing the title on his father’s death in 1970 in order to retain his seat in the House of Commons (he had become heir after his elder brother’s death in 1941).

Despite giving up his right to the Earldom, though he was insistent he still be known by his courtesy title of Viscount Lambton, even going so far as to insist to the returning officer at his 1970 election that he should be referred to as ‘Lord’ and not ‘Mr’ Lambton.

He enjoyed a somewhat undistinguished political career for almost two decades, serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary to foreign secretary Selwyn Lloyd from 1955 to 1957, but not rising to ministerial rank himself until 1970, when he was appointed as a parliamentary under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence, where he gained a reputation as capable, but cocky.

Tall and thin, with dark hair and a habit of wearing sunglassses inside as well as out, he had a reputation as something of a playboy – one that would only be boosted by the scandal that would end his political career.

Lord Lambton, president of the Durham Agricultural Society, talking to overseas students at the County Show .

A police raid on a Soho porn shop in 1973 turned up a coded notebook of names and addresses. The only uncoded name – Jellicoe – was initially assumed to refer to leader of the Lords, Earl Jellicoe, who was interviewed and -needlessly, as it turned out – confessed to having visited a Mayfair prostitute and resigned.

In fact, Jellicoe was the name of a hotel owned by Colin Levy and his wife Norma. Quizzed by detectives, Colin revealed Anthony Lambton had been his wife’s lover.

With help from journalists at the News of the World, Colin bugged his wife’s flat, installing a camera and fitting a microphone in a teddy bear.

The equipment recorded Anthony Lambton and Norma Levy talking about drugs and also caught them in a threesome with another prostitute while Lambton smoked marijuana.

Lord Lambton at Washington in June 1970

The News of the World eventually passed on the story and Levy sold it to The People, which handed the evidence to the police.

The pictures caused a scandal in a Downing Street which was still reeling from the Profumo affair a decade earlier and Lambton promptly resigned both his ministerial office and his seat as an MP, which was eventually taken by Alan Beith.

While Lambton’s downfall may have echoed that of Profumo, however, the two men’s reactions to disgrace could hardly have been more different.

Profumo dedicated himself to public service and spent the rest of his life working for charity.

Lambton, however, was more defiant, telling Robin Day he had often used ‘prostitutes for sex’ and explaining ‘people sometimes like variety. It's as simple as that.’

Documents released under the Government’s 30-year rule show he told an MI5 official shortly after his resignation that he had turned to a combination of ‘vigorous gardening’ and ‘debauchery’ as a means of dealing with stress and the futility of his job.

Lambton retired to Cetinale, his 17th Century Italian villa, where he lived in exile with mistress, Clare Ward, and became a generous – though reportedly a mean-spirited – host to a wide social circle.

He died in December 2006.