Memorial Service Lord Stewartby James Hughes-onslow
Nearly 30 years ago, Ian Stewartby, who was our neighbour in south London, told me about the dramatic event that brought his ministerial career to an end in 1989.
As Margaret Thatcher’s security minister in Northern Ireland, he was in an Army helicopter over County Tyrone when it swerved to avoid IRA fire. He was thrown from his seat and broke his hip. Because he faced the prospect of heavy legislation to push through the Commons, he resigned as a minister and later went to the Lords. He didn’t tell the PM or his wife, Deborah Buchan, about his accident because he didn’t want a fuss, he didn’t want the pilot to be in trouble and he wished to avoid an IRA propaganda coup.
Ian told friends his injury was caused when he tripped over his Border Terrier. I knew this was an unlikely story because I used to walk my black Labrador, Brixton, in the same park. Ian was a nimble fellow, with a double first in classics and a Cambridge Blue for tennis and rackets. And he was then in his early fifties. Not the sort who would fall over his dog. I used to tell the dog it should not listen to this dreadful lie. This is when Ian told me the real story.
When Ian died in March, I read his obits with interest. There was no mention of the helicopter accident. I asked Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore, if there was any reference in her papers. He rang Lady Stewartby and she said she knew nothing about it.
I went to Ian’s memorial service at Jesus College, Cambridge, with some anticipation. Would anyone have dug up the truth about Ian’s bravery in defending Mrs T despite his own pain? Lady Stewartby’s brother Edward Buchan, an honorary lay canon at Bristol Cathedral, led the tributes. He had tried to find out about the helicopter accident but encountered a wall of silence. He described Ian as intelligent, diligent and scholarly, a perfect gentleman and a numismatist of international renown. He told how Ian was injured when his helicopter had to take evasive action.
Several grandchildren paid tribute. But the best eulogy came from Sir Clive Lloyd who was quoted from Test Match Special in the service sheet: ‘We played a match last week: a former West Indies side against a team from the House of Lords and House of Commons. We won quite easily, but there was this one batsman, the Lord Stewartby; we couldn’t get him out – he played so straight.’ JAMES HUGHES-ONSLOW