Stephen Ward and Christine Keller

Friends and foe: Stephen Ward and Christine Keeler.

STEPHEN WARD WAS INNOCENT, OK
Geoffrey Robertson
New South, $24.99

The Profumo Affair is one of those quasi-mythical events of British history and we're inclined to think we know what happened in this scandal of 50 years ago which brought down Macmillan's Tory government. There was the Russian spy Ivanov and the minister for war Profumo who lied to parliament, the call girls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies and - right at the centre of it, the man most ruined by it - Stephen Ward, the establishment osteopath turned pimp who set up all the sordid goings on and who committed suicide towards the end of the trial in which he was found guilty of living off immoral earnings.

Well, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Australia's international celebrity silk, takes the whole thing apart and shows convincingly that Ward was not only innocent of the charges brought against him but his prosecution was the result of a scandalous and monstrous abuse of government power which cries out to heaven for vengeance (or at any rate to be redressed).

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Profumo denied his affair with Keeler and Harold Wilson's Labour Party was baying for blood. Ward told Wilson Profumo was lying and the government, from that point, was doomed. The Home Secretary of the day, Sir Henry Brooke, sought out first MI5 (for whom Stephen Ward had done some work) and then the police commissioner with orders that they had to get Ward. The spooks said there was nothing there but the cops thought they could get him as a pimp.

Robertson, in this brilliant legal opinion (originally elicited by Andrew Lloyd Webber who has a new musical, Stephen Ward), shows comprehensively and devastatingly that the all-but-arrived-at guilty verdict against Ward was an abuse of the rule of law and that the incomplete - because of abidingly bizarre secrecy provisions - record of the trial reflects badly not only on the home secretary but the trial judge, Mr Justice Marshall and the Chief Justice of the day.

Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies (the woman who immortally said, ''He would, wouldn't he'' when she was told Lord Astor had denied sleeping with her) both lived in Ward's house and paid him the odd bit of rent or money for bills, but he had in fact, lent them money and there was no factual basis for the notion that he ''lived off'' their earnings.

Ward was destroyed by Keeler's testimony, even though in an associated case, heard at the 11th hour of the Ward trial, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, himself threw out a case because her evidence was suspect. And if she had been known to have committed perjury - and she was subsequently to go to prison for nine months for doing so - her word would never have been accepted against Ward.

Stephen Ward Is Innocent, OK, is a hideous indictment of what can go wrong with what we are all inclined to believe is the finest system of justice on earth. It is essentially a legal opinion and it shows Robertson at his most polished and considered, without exaggeration.

His indictment of the ongoing secrecy that surrounds the case (where even the transcript of the trial remains unavailable) has great power. The supplements at the end of the book, including Lord Goodman's legal opinion and a hilarious transcript from the House of Lords reinforce the sanity and authority of this critique.

Robertson says, ''The conviction of Stephen Ward is the worst unrequited miscarriage of justice in modern British history and it is now time it should be reversed''. Because of this brave, angry, liberal book by a great jurist, perhaps it will be.