Lord May­hew of Twys­den

Tall and boom­ing bar­ris­ter who as North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary un­der John Ma­jor played a key role in the Down­ing Street Dec­la­ra­tion

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries - Lord May­hew of Twys­den, born Septem­ber 11 1929, died June 25 2016

LORD MAY­HEW OF TWYS­DEN, who has died aged 86, was the solic­i­tor gen­eral whose fury at the leak­ing of his con­fi­den­tial ad­vice over the West­land af­fair forced the res­ig­na­tion of Leon Brit­tan as trade and in­dus­try sec­re­tary and al­most brought down Mar­garet Thatcher; he was later an un­ex­pect­edly pa­tient North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary un­der John Ma­jor, lay­ing much of the ground­work for the even­tual peace.

Paddy May­hew’s anger stemmed from the leak in Jan­uary 1986 of his let­ter to Michael He­sel­tine dis­put­ing the claims be­hind the lat­ter’s cam­paign for the ail­ing he­li­copter firm to pass to Euro­pean, not Amer­i­can, hands. He­sel­tine re­signed as defence sec­re­tary in mid-Cabi­net three days later.

Brit­tan’s sub­se­quent de­par­ture amid the storm over the leak put the prime min­is­ter at risk. She owed her sur­vival to luck, dis­trust in the party of both He­sel­tine and Brit­tan, and Neil Kinnock’s fail­ure to dom­i­nate the de­bate on the res­ig­na­tions which Mrs Thatcher – who did not blame May­hew – feared would force her to go.

Tall and boom­ing, May­hew could only have been a bar­ris­ter. Fiercely con­ser­va­tive where the Bar was con­cerned, he en­joyed sup­port on the Tory Right de­spite be­ing pro-Euro­pean. They pressed for years for him to take charge in Ul­ster, out of a con­vic­tion – not borne out in prac­tice – that he would take the sword to the IRA.

As se­cret con­tacts and a pub­lic peace ini­tia­tive launched by his pre­de­ces­sor Peter Brooke started to bear fruit, May­hew be­came the first sec­re­tary of state to meet the Sinn Fein pres­i­dent and for­mer IRA com­man­der Gerry Adams. The ini­tia­tive foundered on the IRA’s re­fusal to dis­arm, but the con­tacts es­tab­lished with Sinn Fein (and Dublin) paved the way for the Good Fri­day Agree­ment months af­ter May­hew’s re­tire­ment at the 1997 elec­tion.

May­hew, who came from Ir­ish Protes­tant stock, ac­tively wanted the job. His ap­point­ment caused con­ster­na­tion in Dublin, but he won the Repub­lic’s con­fi­dence – though re­la­tions frayed af­ter John Bruton re­placed Al­bert Reynolds as Taoiseach. One Ir­ish of­fi­cial ob­served: “He may be a South­ern Ir­ish Union­ist – but first and fore­most, he is a Cork man.”

Stor­mont seemed a strange place to send a man renowned for blunt­ness. But May­hew man­aged to pla­cate Ul­ster’s tribes as he edged to­ward di­a­logue with Sinn Fein, with repub­li­cans and Loy­al­ists equally ready to press their point with atroc­i­ties and Union­ists con­stantly threat­en­ing to walk out.

His rev­e­la­tion of the se­cret con­tacts and his agree­ment to a “frame­work doc­u­ment” with Dublin brought cries of be­trayal. But May­hew – the first sec­re­tary of state to ad­dress an Orange Lodge – was sin­cere in re­as­sur­ing Union­ists he would not make a one-sided agree­ment.

Some col­leagues feared one con­ces­sion too many to Sinn Fein, and he crossed swords with the home sec­re­tary Michael Howard. Yet it was May­hew who, af­ter the IRA called a sup­pos­edly per­ma­nent cease­fire in 1994, in­sisted talks could not be­gin with­out a phys­i­cal handover of weapons. May­hew let his com­po­sure slip just once. Told on ar­riv­ing at the opera that a grenade at­tack in Belfast had in­jured 30 peo­ple, he re­torted: “Well, no­body is dead. At the end of this opera, ev­ery­body is dead.”

Over nine years as a law of­fi­cer, May­hew came to re­sent what he saw as his ex­clu­sion from main­stream pol­i­tics. Yet few law of­fi­cers have faced more po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive de­ci­sions. There were dis­putes with the Repub­lic over ex­tra­di­tion, and fre­quent rows over whether and how those re­spon­si­ble for se­cu­rity leaks should be pur­sued. But there was no more con­tro­ver­sial mat­ter than West­land.

He­sel­tine had writ­ten to the Euro­pean con­sor­tium he hoped would ac­quire the com­pany in terms May­hew – deputis­ing for the at­tor­ney-gen­eral, Sir Michael Havers, who was ill – be­lieved se­ri­ously mis­lead­ing. He warned He­sel­tine of “ma­te­rial in­ac­cu­ra­cies” in claim­ing that if Amer­ica’s Siko­rsky ac­quired West­land, it would be barred from Euro­pean defence con­tracts.

When his let­ter was leaked, May­hew at­tacked the “fla­grant vi­o­la­tion” of his con­fi­den­tial ad­vice, threat­ened to send the po­lice into 10 Down­ing Street and told Mrs Thatcher he would quit un­less the mis­cre­ant were pun­ished.

She told the Com­mons the let­ter had been is­sued on Brit­tan’s au­thor­ity by his head of in­for­ma­tion, Co­lette Bowe – Bernard Ing­ham, her own press sec­re­tary, hav­ing re­fused to re­lease it him­self. The prime min­is­ter in­sisted that she had not been con­sulted, and a se­lect com­mit­tee – though not the Labour gad­fly Tam Da­lyell – ac­cepted this.

Pa­trick Barn­abas Burke May­hew was born on Septem­ber 11 1929. His father was an oil ex­ec­u­tive with a dis­tin­guished war record and his great un­cle Henry May­hew, au­thor of Lon­don Labour and the Lon­don Poor; his mother’s side were An­glo-Ir­ish from the 13th cen­tury. He was ed­u­cated at Ton­bridge and Bal­liol Col­lege, Ox­ford, be­com­ing pres­i­dent of the Union – un­op­posed – in 1952 and of the univer­sity Con­ser­va­tive As­so­ci­a­tion. Pre­vi­ously, he served as a sub­al­tern in the 4th/7th King’s Dra­goon Guards.

The young May­hew cut a dash, whether hunt­ing with the Beau­fort or dressed in white tie and tails. He was a keen cricketer, and later a pas­sion­ate yachts­man. Awarded a schol­ar­ship by the Mid­dle Tem­ple, he was called to the Bar in 1955; he be­came a Bencher in 1980. He prac­tised at the crim­i­nal Bar, mainly de­fend­ing, and took silk in 1972.

He fought Dul­wich in 1970 – Labour’s Sam Silkin hang­ing on by 895 votes – then in Fe­bru­ary 1974 was elected for Tun­bridge Wells, suc­ceed­ing Richard Hornby. It took May­hew time to ad­just to the Com­mons, as “ev­ery time I spoke I made a Court of Ap­peal speech, as if I had a bad smell un­der my nose.” But in 1976 he was elected to the 1922 Com­mit­tee ex­ec­u­tive. When Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979, she made May­hew a ju­nior em­ploy­ment min­is­ter. For two years he worked with James Prior on trade union re­forms. Prior’s “step by step” ap­proach was strongly crit­i­cised by the Right, egged on – to May­hew’s dis­may – by the prime min­is­ter.

In Jan­uary 1981 he was pro­moted to the Home Of­fice as min­is­ter of state – mak­ing the young Ma­jor his PPS; Ma­jor would pro­pose him as North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary as early as 1985 (when a whip). He steered through the Com­mons the Crim­i­nal At­tempts Bill, which abol­ished the “sus” law, a Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Bill end­ing im­pris­on­ment for va­grancy, and the first Po­lice and Crim­i­nal Ev­i­dence Bill, which fell when an elec­tion was called for June 1983.

Re-elected by a land­slide, Mrs Thatcher made him solic­i­tor-gen­eral, with the then cus­tom­ary knight­hood. His in­flu­ence in gov­ern­ment grew, not least be­cause Havers’s poor health of­ten made him the fi­nal ar­biter. He backed greater use of sus­pended sen­tences to ease prison over­crowd­ing and more fo­cused pros­e­cu­tions for fraud, but op­posed at­tempts to deny al­leged fraud­sters and mi­nor thieves the right to a jury trial.

When Havers pro­posed abol­ish­ing the no­jury Di­plock courts in Ul­ster, May­hew threat­ened to re­sign. He also op­posed moves to in­cor­po­rate the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights into Bri­tish law, say­ing it would thrust judges into po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy – as even­tu­ally hap­pened.

Af­ter the 1987 elec­tion he was pro­moted to at­tor­ney-gen­eral, Havers briefly be­com­ing Lord Chan­cel­lor. May­hew took ex­cep­tion to a re­form Green Pa­per from Havers’s suc­ces­sor, Lord Mackay, threat­en­ing to re­sign if rights of au­di­ence in the High Court for solic­i­tors, an end to the solic­i­tors’ con­veyanc­ing mo­nop­oly and no-win, no-fee agree­ments were im­ple­mented. He helped kill pro­pos­als for bar­ris­ters and solic­i­tors to form part­ner­ships, and wel­comed the fi­nal, wa­tered down pack­age as able to “break up the log­jam with­out risk­ing break­ing up the whole sys­tem”.

Coun­ter­pro­duc­tively, the gov­ern­ment tried to use the courts, start­ing in Aus­tralia, to stop pub­li­ca­tion of Spy­catcher, the mem­oirs of the for­mer MI5 agent Peter Wright. May­hew said it was “seek­ing to up­hold the prin­ci­ple that any­one who has held em­ploy­ment in the se­cu­rity ser­vices owes a life-long duty of con­fi­den­tial­ity to the Crown.”

He forced the Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Sir Robert Arm­strong to re­cant in the wit­ness box a claim that the gov­ern­ment had con­ceded that Sir Roger Hol­lis, a for­mer head of MI5, had spied for Rus­sia; there­after, the two were not on speak­ing terms.

May­hew was also deeply in­volved in the re­place­ment of the “catch-all” Sec­tion 2 of the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act, to which Mrs Thatcher agreed once it was clear that no jury would con­vict with the law as it stood.

Many of his most sen­si­tive prob­lems con­cerned Ul­ster. In 1988 he en­raged the Repub­lic by stop­ping the pros­e­cu­tion of RUC of­fi­cers who had shot five ter­ror­ist sus­pects; Ken Liv­ing­stone was sus­pended from the Com­mons for call­ing him an “ac­com­plice to mur­der”. May­hew was given an armed guard.

Af­ter the Dail passed an Act stip­u­lat­ing that the Ir­ish at­tor­ney gen­eral should ex­am­ine the ev­i­dence in ex­tra­di­tion cases, May­hew con­tin­ued to send war­rants which did not de­ploy the ev­i­dence. A fur­ther set­back was a judge’s re­lease of Pa­trick McVeigh, a ter­ror­ist sus­pect, be­cause he saw no proof that McVeigh was the man on the war­rants. Ire­land’s High Court over­ruled him, but too late. May­hew was in­can­des­cent when Fr Pa­trick Ryan, wanted for al­leged con­spir­acy and bomb­ing, slipped away to Bel­gium while the Ir­ish author­i­ties were ex­am­in­ing Scot­land Yard war­rants.

In 1990 he halted the Cus­toms and Ex­cise’s pros­e­cu­tion of busi­ness­men for breach­ing sanc­tions by sup­ply­ing Sad­dam Hus­sein with com­po­nents for a “su­per­gun”. He acted af­ter ev­i­dence from the for­mer trade min­is­ter Alan Clark that min­is­ters had con­nived with the ex­port, but nev­er­the­less en­raged of­fi­cials who had brought the charges.

Three years later, he de­nied to the Scott in­quiry hav­ing tried to stop his for­mer Com­mons col­league Hal Miller telling the court White­hall had known about plans for a “su­per­gun” two years be­fore it seized the parts.

May­hew served in the “War Cabi­net” in 1991 as Ma­jor sent forces to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. He ad­vised on Bri­tain’s obli­ga­tions un­der in­ter­na­tional law, and Iraq’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for cap­tive air­crew un­der the Geneva Con­ven­tion, re­buk­ing Ed­ward Heath for claim­ing Bri­tain’s re­quest for other coun­tries to de­fray the cost had turned its forces into “mer­ce­nar­ies”.

That Oc­to­ber, he ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions, Sir Allan Green, stopped by po­lice at King’s Cross for kerb-crawl­ing. He ap­pointed Barbara Mills, head of the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice, to suc­ceed him. Later, he ac­qui­esced in the Chan­cel­lor, Nor­man La­mont, in­struct­ing solic­i­tors at the tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense to re­move an un­wanted sex ther­a­pist from his base­ment.

Af­ter the 1992 elec­tion, Ma­jor sent May­hew to Stor­mont. He ar­rived with a no-non­sense rep­u­ta­tion, but from the out­set was con­cil­ia­tory. All-party talks (mi­nus Sinn Fein) took place in Dublin that Septem­ber, and sub­se­quently at Stor­mont, for the first time since the 1920s in­volv­ing the Repub­lic. May­hew sent a mes­sage to vi­o­lent Loy­al­ists by ban­ning the Ul­ster Defence As­so­ci­a­tion.

One totemic is­sue was Union­ists’ in­sis­tence – shared by May­hew – that Dublin aban­don its claim to the Six Coun­ties. By 1993, the Repub­lic’s deputy premier Dick Spring was telling him it would be re­viewed, but only when an over­all pack­age was tak­ing shape.

Late in 1992, May­hew said that if the IRA re­nounced vi­o­lence, Sinn Fein might even­tu­ally join the di­a­logue, and de­clared that Bri­tain had “no strate­gic in­ter­est” in North­ern Ire­land. The worst Loy­al­ist un­rest in Belfast for years fol­lowed. A year later the se­cret con­tacts with the IRA were re­vealed af­ter years of de­nials, em­bar­rass­ing both sides; the con­duit was Michael Oat­ley, a re­tired MI6 agent. The IRA had re­port­edly told the gov­ern­ment: “The con­flict is over, but we need your ad­vice on how to bring it to a close.”

On De­cem­ber 15 1993, Ma­jor and Reynolds is­sued the Down­ing Street Dec­la­ra­tion, con­firm­ing the right of the prov­ince’s peo­ple to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Sinn Fein sought clar­i­fi­ca­tion; min­is­ters pub­licly re­sisted but gave it. Mean­while, the IRA staged mor­tar at­tacks on Heathrow.

May­hew con­tin­ued to send out pos­i­tive sig­nals, say­ing the IRA would not have to sur­ren­der, then agree­ing to an­swer ques­tions trans­mit­ted through Dublin. Sinn Fein re­jected the Dec­la­ra­tion, but in Septem­ber 1994 the IRA an­nounced the “com­plete ces­sa­tion of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions”. May­hew re­sponded by scal­ing down se­cu­rity in Ul­ster, the ban on broad­cast­ing the voices of repub­li­cans was lifted and Loy­al­ists too an­nounced a cease­fire.

The frame­work doc­u­ment agreed with Dublin was re­leased early in 1995, af­ter a leak that out­raged Union­ists. Or­ders bar­ring repub­li­can lead­ers from main­land Bri­tain were lifted, then 400 troops left the prov­ince. May­hew re­peated that the IRA must de­liver “tan­gi­ble de­com­mis­sion­ing” be­fore talks.

That May, he had a his­toric 30-minute meet­ing with Adams at a Wash­ing­ton in­vest­ment con­fer­ence; in pri­vate, they shook hands. They met twice more, with­out break­ing the dead­lock.

May­hew caused fury among repub­li­cans – and more widely – by re­leas­ing Pte Lee Clegg, jailed for mur­der af­ter shoot­ing a joyrider at a check­point, af­ter a cam­paign by the mil­i­tary and its sup­port­ers at West­min­ster. Weeks later, he re­leased 100 IRA pris­on­ers.

With de­com­mis­sion­ing by the IRA now a stum­bling block be­tween Ma­jor and Bruton, an in­ter­na­tional com­mis­sion was set up un­der the for­mer US Sen­a­tor Ge­orge Mitchell. May­hew pro­posed an elected “peace con­ven­tion” to ap­pease the Union­ists; Adams was im­pla­ca­bly op­posed.

The IRA’s Lon­don Dock­lands bomb­ing in Fe­bru­ary 1996 halted moves to bring Sinn Fein in from the cold; May­hew termed it a “very se­ri­ous set­back”. Talks in­volv­ing the other par­ties even­tu­ally re-started un­der Mitchell, then elec­tions to the con­ven­tion gave Sinn Fein 15 per cent of the vote, strength­en­ing its hand.

The low point for May­hew came that July. Af­ter a four-day con­fronta­tion at Drum­cree, the RUC let Loy­al­ists march past a Catholic es­tate, spark­ing a week of ri­ots. Re­la­tions with Dublin were said to be at their worst since Bloody Sun­day. And a bomb ex­ploded at En­niskillen, the first in Ul­ster for nearly two years.

May­hew tried to coax the IRA back on board, but all par­ties were now an­tic­i­pat­ing a Labour gov­ern­ment. Many el­e­ments of a deal were now in place, and May­hew helped pre­pare Mo Mowlam, who would be his Labour suc­ces­sor, to take the work for­ward.

Leav­ing the Com­mons, May­hew re­ceived a life peer­age; he was un­til 2006 an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­ser­va­tive Peers, and from 2000 chaired the prime min­is­ter’s com­mit­tee on busi­ness ap­point­ments. In 2001 he was ap­pointed Deputy Lieu­tenant for Kent.

Pa­trick May­hew mar­ried Jean Gur­ney in 1963; she and their four sons sur­vive him.

May­hew: al­though renowned for blunt­ness, he met Gerry Adams and man­aged to pla­cate Ul­ster’s tribes

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