International human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, QC.

International human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, QC. Photo: Andy Zakeli

How Stephen Ward was wronged

London: Stephen Ward – the scapegoat for Britain's infamous Profumo sex scandal in the 1960s – was a casualty of Britain's worst uncorrected miscarriage of justice, says Geoffrey Robertson, QC.

But his life and death also hold a warning for modern times, the celebrated lawyer and activist argues.

<i>Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK</i> by Geoffrey Robertson, QC.

Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK by Geoffrey Robertson, QC. Photo: Supplied

At times of "moral panic", when the Establishment or the media stir up a storm of public passion, you cannot always rely on the course of justice to hold true, he says.

On Monday, Mr Robertson launches a campaign to overturn the conviction of Ward, and also launches a book that argues for his innocence.

Mr Robertson told Fairfax Media that the case bore re-examining following the Jimmy Savile scandal, with many other figures – including Australian entertainer Rolf Harris – facing accusations and charges of sexual assault.

"We need to overturn this grotesque miscarriage of justice, first to acknowledge that it happened," he said.

"But the second reason is to ensure it never happens again.

"Jimmy Savile molested so many children, and in the wake of that a number of people, including Rolf have been arrested. It is essential the courts ensure they have a fair trial."

Ward was an osteopath and society figure in the early 1960s. He became the scapegoat for the Profumo affair, which in 1963 brought down the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, and, the next year, the Conservative government, Mr Robertson writes in his book, Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK.

John Profumo, the minister for war, had a brief affair with Ward's housemate Christine Keeler, whom he met at a party hosted by Ward (on one account, probably one of the many tabloid-fuelled lies and misconceptions that riddle the case, Profumo chased a naked Keeler around the swimming pool).

When rumours of the affair began to leak out, the Labour opposition seized on Keeler's dubious claim that she had also slept with Soviet naval attache Yevgeny Ivanov – who some claimed was a spy and who had been at the same party.

Profumo denied the affair to Parliament, but Ward exposed his lie and Profumo was forced to resign, amid a welter of salacious newspaper exposes about Ward, Keeler, and Mandy Rice-Davies, who lived with them and shared their freewheeling lifestyle.

However, the Establishment took its revenge, Mr Robertson says, by making Ward the scapegoat for the scandal.

"Many thought the moral fabric of family life was under real threat from this explosion of sexual scandal," he says.

"The choice of Stephen Ward for the role of scapegoat was made by Home Secretary Sir Henry Brooke, who summoned the head of MI5 and the police commissioner and requested them, in effect, to 'get Ward' – for any offence he could possibly have committed."

Ward's phones were bugged, his home and consulting rooms put under 24-hour surveillance, and his patients questioned by police.

Keeler was interviewed 24 times "in desperate attempts to implicate Ward in something felonious," Mr Robertson wrote.

Ward was charged with pimping and procuring women, and there was a seven-day trial that Mr Robertson calls a "farce". Evidence of his innocence was hidden, and the trial judge directed the jury to convict him on speculation.

"This shameful spectacle remains the worst unrectified miscarriage of justice in modern British history," Mr Robertson wrote.

"At a time of moral or political panic ... laws and legal procedures could be manipulated to produce an unjust result."

Ward attempted suicide by drug overdose on the night before his conviction, in despair at the unfairness of the trial. He fell into a coma and died several days later.

Mr Robertson says many of the injustices that led to the conviction and death of Ward could not happen now, thanks to reforms after miscarriages of justice in cases such as those of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.

However trial by jury remains vulnerable, he says.

"The tabloid misconduct exposed by [the] Leveson [inquiry into newspapers in Britain] has led to massive police inquiries which are bringing many celebrities, journalists and whistle-blowers into the Old Bailey dock: they can be tried fairly, but only if the lessons of Stephen Ward's case have been learnt."

Mr Robertson says he has identified 12 mistakes of law in the Ward trial, and says the legal establishment has tried to cover up its shameful behaviour by refusing to release the official transcript of the trial.

His book will be lodged with Britain's Criminal Cases Review Commission, which has the power to overturn Ward's conviction and order the release of the transcript.

The case requires more than just a pardon, Mr Robertson says.

"His unjust conviction deserves not only to be quashed but also to be remembered as a warning to all law enforcers against ever again allowing themselves to be panicked and pressured into giving a citizen an unfair trial."