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Author Leo Abse speaking on BBC Radio Wales
"I had to intervene on a number of occasions to protect my friend"
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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 15:12 GMT
Anger over gay former speaker claims
The late Lord Tonypandy, George Thomas
Lord Tonypandy : saved from political ruin by Leo Abse
A former Labour MP has come under fire for revealing that the much-respected Commons speaker George Thomas was a homosexual who had been the victim of blackmail.

He was living at a time when any overt expression of his homosexuality could have led to utter personal disaster and the end of his public life

Author and former MP Leo Abse
Leo Abse - who was a Labour MP - said that Mr Thomas, who became Lord Tonypandy after his elevation to the Lords, had been "reduced to jelly" by people trying to blackmail him.

In his book Tony Blair: The Man Behind the Smile, Mr Abse described how Lord Tonypandy, who died in 1997, paid cash to keep his gay lifestyle secret.

Criminal offence

Threats to expose him came at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence.

But the allegations about Lord Tonypandy were branded a "disgrace" by Labour peer Lord Cocks.

He said: "I was appalled. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, what is the point of doing this?

"I knew all sorts of things about people which I learned as chief whip and if I spoke out these people would be embarrassed."

Lord Cocks said he would not speak out himself because of respect for people involved.

'Absolutely horrified'

Conservative MP Roger Gale said that people from all political persuasions would be "absolutely horrified".

"George was genuinely well-loved and respected by all those who came into contact with him," he said.

And senior Labour MP Donald Anderson, who was a friend of both Lord Tonypandy and of Mr Abse, said it was "most unfair" that such allegations be made about a man unable to defend himself.

Leo Abse
Mr Abse has come under fire
"George cannot rebut the allegations. He was a very distinguished parliamentarian and should be allowed to rest in peace."

Mr Abse - who later introduced the bill decriminalising homosexuality - told BBC Wales that he had come to his friend's rescue "a number of times".

And he once lent bachelor Mr Thomas 800 pounds to pay an extortioner.

Right reasons

Despite the criticism, Mr Abse has insisted he did it for all the right reasons.

"The reason why that chapter in the book exists is because he was one of the people whom I have selected to show that it is possible for people - however flawed - to often transcend their difficulties, often to the benefit of the community," he explained.

He described the former Cardiff West MP and former Secretary of State for Wales as someone who brought "great inspiration to large numbers of people".

And, he added: "He was living at a time when any overt expression of his homosexuality could have led to utter personal disaster and the end of his public life.

"Sometimes he had what he regarded as 'lapses' - and those lapses often brought him into situations where he was exposed to the blackmailer.

"I had to intervene a number of times to protect him."

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