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Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Death of Hugh Gaitskell and Ian Fleming

Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of the Labour Party, died at the Middlesex Hospital, London, of the rare disease lupus erythematosus, on 18th January 1963. He was replaced as leader of the Labour Party by his long time enemy, Harold Wilson. Some members of MI5 believed that Wilson was a Soviet agent. Anatoli Golitsyn also told them that Gaitskell had been poisoned by the KGB.

A senior figure in MI5, Peter Wright, explained in his biography Spycatcher:

Much has been written about Harold Wilson and MI5, some of it wildly inaccurate. But as far as I am concerned, the story started with the premature death of Hugh Gaitskell in 1963. Gaitskell was Wilson's predecessor as Leader of the Labour Party. I knew him personally and admired him greatly. I had met him and his family at the Blackwater Sailing Club, and I recall about a month before he died he told me that he was going to Russia.


After he died his doctor got in touch with MI5 and asked to see somebody from the Service. Arthur Martin, as the head of Russian Counterespionage, went to see him. The doctor explained that he was disturbed by the manner of Gaitskell's death. He said that Gaitskell had died of a disease called lupus disseminata, which attacks the body's organs. He said that it was rare in temperate climates and that there was no evidence that Gaitskell had been anywhere recently where he could have contracted the disease.

Arthur Martin suggested that I should go to Porton Down, the chemical and microbiological laboratory for the Ministry of Defense. I went to see the chief doctor in the chemical warfare laboratory. Dr. Ladell, and asked his advice. He said that nobody knew how one contracted lupus. There was some suspicion that it might be a form of fungus and he did hot have the foggiest idea how one would infect somebody with the disease. I came back and made my report in these terms.

The next development was that Golitsin told us quite independently that during the last few years of his service he had had some contacts with Department 13, which was known as the Department of Wet Affairs in the KGB. This department was responsible for organizing assassinations. He said that just before he left he knew that the KGB were planning a high-level political assassination in Europe in order to get their man into the top place. He did not know which country it was planned in but he pointed out that the chief of Department 13 was a man called General Rodin, who had been in Britain for many years and had just returned on promotion to take up the job, so he would have had good knowledge of the political scene in England.

There is in fact another possibility. Gaitskell was having an affair with Anne Fleming, the wife of Ian Fleming. Had the novelist used his contacts in the SIS to kill Gaitskell? Was Peter Wright's story part of a cover-up.

Interestingly, in 1968 Wright became involved with Cecil King, the publisher of the Daily Mirror, in a plot to bring down Wilson's government and replace it with a coalition led by Lord Mountbatten.

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