Memo­rial Ser­vice Lord Ste­wartby James Hughes-onslow

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

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

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