Basil Thomson

1919, while remaining Assistant Commissioner (Crime), he was appointed Director of Intelligence at the Home Office, in overall charge of every intelligence agency in the country, When Britain's Government Committee on Intelligence decided to slash Kell's Special Intelligence Bureau budget and staff and subordinate MI5 under a new Home Office Civil Intelligence Directorate led by Special Branch's Sir Basil Thomson in January 1919, the powerful MI5/Special Branch partnership that managed counterintelligence and subversives during the war was suddenly thrown into disarray. These bureaucratic intrigues happened at the very moment that the Irish abstentionist party, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were launching their own independence campaign.

The Scotland Yard spies in Ireland were part of Thomson's empire.

1921 he fell out with Lloyd George and was asked to resign. The reasons for this remain mysterious.

1925 December. Thomson was arrested in London's Hyde Park, and charged with "committing an act in violation of public decency" with a young woman, Miss Thelma de Lava. Thomson rejected the charges, insisting that he was engaged in conversation with the woman for the purposes of research for a book he was writing on London vice. Nonetheless, he was found guilty of public indecency, and fined £5

From Time. The bobby who arrested Sir Basil testified: "He was violating public decency . . . sitting on a park bench with his arms around the woman's neck . . . and all that. . . . He admitted to me that he was Sir Basil Thomson and said: "If my friends find out about this I am ruined. 'If you can overlook this, I'll make it possible for you to leave the force tomorrow.'"

Sir Basil's distinguished counsel, Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett, K. C. B., then arose and demanded that the bobby who had accused his client be ejected from the room "because he is smirking and making grimaces." The Court ordered the now straight-faced policeman to withdraw.

Sir Basil himself was then put on the stand: "I deny under oath that I committed the offense with which I am charged, or that I attempted to bribe the police officer who unwarrantably arrested me . . . I am writing a book dealing with vice conditions in the West End, and had gone to Hyde Park to gather data at first hand. I call the Court's attention to the fact that my works, Queer People and Diversions of a Prime Minister, are well known. . . As I entered the park I was accosted by a young woman, and we sat down upon two chairs placed under a tree at some distance from the public walk. . . I engaged her in conversation, and later, when she said she was hard up, I unbottoned my coat for the purpose of getting out a few shillings and giving them to her. . . At that moment the police officer who has just testified fairly charged down upon us."

Mr. Douglas Straight, one time Inspector General of Police in India, and the noted London barrister, Harry Higgins, testified that Sir Basil had often expressed to them his intention of going to Hyde Park to seek material for his book. The Rt. Hon. Reginald McKenna, Chairman of the Midland Bank and onetime (1911-15) Home Secretary, joined with Vice Admiral Sir Reginald Hall in testifying to the "irreproachable character of Sir Basil."

The defense summed up: "I do not hesitate to refer to my client as one of the greatest criminologists in England. . . . It is well known that he was chiefly instrumental in securing the conviction of Sir Roger Casement (TIME, Dec. 28). . . . He is a son of the late Archbishop of York. . . . It is inconceivable that a man in Sir Basil's position and with his repuation and knowledge of the world could possibly find himself seated before a court on such a charge."

The Court dryly observed that Sir Basil was seated before it none the less; but evinced interest in a statement by the defense that it was impossible that anyone should have seen Sir Basil misconducting himself at the time and place charged, because it was too dark there to see anything at all. The crowds of spectators who jammed the court room throughout the trial whooped gleefully and had to be quelled. After some further unreeling of legal red tape, Sir Basil was found guilty, and fined £5 ($25) and costs amounting to an equal sum. The girl who had been arrested with him, one Thelma de Lava, "actress," had been convicted earlier and fined £2. Sir Basil's attorneys at once appealed for a retrial in a higher court.

London barristers recalled that Sir Almeric Fitzroy,* onetime (1898-1923) clerk of the Privy Council, was convicted on an almost exactly similar charge some years ago, but was later white-washed when he won his case on appeal.

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