Victims of Yalta was first published in Britain in 1978. Over ensuing weeks, the scandal it provoked filled the press, and resulted in numerous radio and television interviews. Among media and public alike, the reaction was one of almost universal horror and disgust at what could only be regarded as major war crimes.
Particular obloquy was directed against the then British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and his underlings in the Northern Department of the Foreign Office. The generally reluctant role played by British troops in despatching hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, to what Harold Macmillan blithely anticipated as ‘slavery, torture, and probably death’ at the hands of the Soviets, was viewed with mingled dismay and compassion.
Feeling ran so high, that before long a committee was formed of members of the three principal political parties and both Houses of Parliament, to raise funds for erection of a monument to the memory of the victims. The only opposition of note came from the Foreign Office, which expressed concern in a letter to the Appeal’s secretary, the Hon. John Jolliffe, that the memorial be not erected in central London. A few years earlier, the Foreign Office had successfully lobbied for a memorial to thousands of Allied Polish officers, massacred by the Soviets in 1940 at Katyn and elsewhere, to be banished to an obscure corner of a West London cemetery.
This time, however, matters did not go as the mandarins desired. Jolliffe enclosed with his reply a copy of a recent letter containing a generous donation. ‘I think you might be interested to see this’, he wrote. It came from one Margaret Thatcher, resident at 10, Downing Street. The Foreign Office recollected that it had always sought a prominent location for the Memorial, and promptly dropped its objection.
The Memorial was built – and rebuilt, after being mysteriously damaged one night. Today it stands in a little garden opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum, where pilgrims and passers-by regularly pause to pray or reflect. I understand it to be the only monument in London named from the title of a book. Here matters might appear to have come to rest. Although I appreciated that further information would inevitably come to light, the broad details of the shameful story were now in the public domain. My writing moved for a while to quite different fields.
However, a particular episode in the forced repatriation continued to fascinate me. Chapters 7 to 10 of Victims of Yalta describe in some detail the vicissitudes of 50,000 Cossacks, who surrendered to British forces in Austria during the week following the German surrender. A combination of force and treachery was employed by the occupying British 5 Corps to deliver them to an anticipated savage fate at the hands of the Soviets.
In Chapter 11, however, I confessed myself baffled by a uniquely sinister aspect of the operations. This was the inclusion among Cossacks betrayed to SMERSH of several thousand Russians who had emigrated during and after the Bolshevik Revolution. As non-Soviet citizens, their handover was prohibited under Allied policy. Virtually every relevant order despatched from Field-Marshal Alexander’s headquarters in Naples to British forces in Austria included this essential point.
Yet the evidence made it clear that the delivery of the émigrés to the Soviets resulted from no blunder or pragmatic emergency, but represented deliberate policy. Thus it was not only the Cossacks who were deceived, but the Allied governments and higher military command. Who could have arranged this unauthorised and totally unnecessary war crime?
My concern remained, but some time passed before fresh information came my way. Meanwhile, I had become further intrigued by the parallel handover of tens of thousands of Yugoslav nationals, who, fleeing Communist terror in their own country, also trustingly sought refuge with the British in Austria. It struck me, not only that this tragedy deserved likewise to be made public, but that it might throw fresh light on the betrayal of the Cossacks.
Eventually, I assembled sufficient material to warrant writing a new book on the subject. This was The Minister and the Massacres, which was published in Britain in 1986. About half the book describes the gruesome fate of the ‘Yugoslavs’, including eyewitness accounts by survivors of mass graves where Tito slaughtered his victims. But what caused a major sensation was my indictment of former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. In 1945 he was political adviser to Field-Marshal Alexander, and on 13 May he flew to Austria, where he gave General Keightley a ‘verbal directive’ to hand over the Cossacks, which secretly included those White Russians whom both men knew were not liable for surrender.
Public reaction was again aroused, but this time outrage arose in influential quarters reacting to my revelation of Macmillan’s conspiratorial action. In the eyes of the British Establishment and its followers, the wily old fraudster had oddly acquired the status of an archetypal statesman of the old school.
Almost at once, I discovered what I was up against. Interviews had been extensively arranged by my publishers with the BBC on wireless and television. At the last minute, all were abruptly cancelled, in consequence of a secret directive from the BBC’s Director-General, Alasdair Milne. Milne was educated at Winchester College, the public school also attended by Toby Low, the 5 Corps Chief of Staff who arranged the brutal operations in Austria. Some years earlier, Low had been raised by Macmillan to the peerage, under the title of Lord Aldington.
The story became highly controversial in the press, where my book found doughty defenders, as well as assailants. However, I was no stranger to controversy, and welcome forthright public debate. What I was unprepared for were the methods by which the British Establishment treats those it regards as its dangerous enemies.
A month after the book’s publication I was telephoned by a Brigadier Cowgill, who expressed great interest in my book, and suggested a meeting. As I frequently receive such requests, I saw no reason to object, and we met for lunch in our local pub. The Brigadier explained that he was greatly impressed by the case I had made, and had particular reason to be concerned about the dubious part played by Lord Aldington, with whom he had a business relationship.
Expressing himself satisfied that my case was a strong one, he asked to keep in touch. Before long, he informed me that he was organising a ‘committee’, whose remit would be to re-examine the evidence, and in due course make their conclusions public. In this way, he explained, more information might be acquired, and the case against Macmillan and Aldington substantiated by support from an independent body.
My wife Georgina’s suspicions were aroused - as mine should have been - when in due course Cowgill named the three people he had invited to join him in forming his ‘Committee’. The first was Thomas Brimelow, whose callous activities as a Foreign Office functionary in 1945 are recounted in Victims of Yalta. The second was Brigadier Tryon-Wilson, a senior colleague of Aldington’s at 5 Corps Headquarters. Finally, Cowgill selected the journalist Christopher Booker, who knew nothing about the subject beyond what he had read in my books.
Cowgill explained that inclusion of Brimelow and Tryon-Wilson would assure the Committee’s balance, while Booker’s review articles echoing my books had been undeviatingly laudatory. Initially, my sole misgiving arose from the fact that none of the four was an historian, which made it hard to envisage in what way they could materially advance understanding.
In the event, as is generally the case with wives, the sagacious Georgina was proved RIGHT.
Cowgill came regularly to see me, eager to obtain copies of fresh documents I was suddenly beginning to discover. Eventually, he informed me that the case now appeared so strong against Macmillan, that his ‘Committee’ planned to issue its ‘Interim report’.
In fact, they had failed to discover fresh evidence of any moment, save what I naïvely supplied them. While researching my two books on the subject, I had become increasingly struck by the extent to which significant documents were missing from relevant files in the Public Record Office. For example, the vital AFHQ screening order of 6 March 1945 has disappeared altogether from the British archives.
Eventually I learned that the United States had retained copies of AFHQ files, in consequence of its being an Anglo-American command. Under the Freedom of Information Act, I obtained microfile copies of the entire archive. They arrived at the end of 1986, regrettably too late for inclusion in The Minister and the Massacres.
However, my principal aim was to place the evidence before the public, and, rashly overriding Georgina’s reservations, I telephoned Cowgill with the exciting news. He rushed to see me the next day, and drove me to a photographic shop, where we had copies made of key documents in the microfilms. These he took away with him, murmuring effusive thanks.
Here I leave the bouncing Brigadier for a space, while I explain how I found myself venturing into further unanticipated choppy seas. At the beginning of 1985 chance contact brought me into touch with a man named Nigel Watts. Watts was involved in a private dispute with Lord Aldington, in the latter’s capacity as Chairman of Sun Alliance Insurance. He had learned a little of Aldington’s actions in Austria in 1945, and became indignant that a man of such dubious antecedents should be Warden of Winchester College, one of England’s most famous public schools.
In due course, Watts declared his intention of issuing a circular to all Governors, old boys, and parents of boys at the College, alerting them to their Warden’s responsibility for war crimes. He professed no expertise on the subject, and when at his request I read a draft of his proposed circular, I found so many factual errors that I quickly wrote the piece myself. Entitled ‘War Crimes and the Wardenship of Winchester College’, it recapitulated in brief outline Aldington’s responsibility as Chief of Staff of 5 Corps for war crimes perpetrated in Austria.
Watts duly sent out several thousand copies, which provoked an extraordinary furore among the recipients. I understand the majority was horrified, many writing to insist that Aldington either resign, or take legal action against Watts. The Governors brought pressure on Aldington to sue.
As my name did not appear on the leaflet, while Watts might be presumed to know little about the subject, Aldington felt small compunction in issuing a writ against him. Historically, English libel law is designed to favour the rich and powerful. There is no need to expatiate on the issue, it being notorious that many US states do not accept libel awards issued by English courts, since the English system violates fundamental rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.
I took Watts to see my lawyers, who to my surprise enquired whether I wished to be joined to the defence. They explained that, as the author, I could insist. Not wishing to leave Watts carrying the can, and confident of the justice of the case, I agreed. Aldington, however, proved not at all anxious to include me, twice emphasising that he ‘has no quarrel with Count Tolstoy’. Only when he learned that my lawyers intended to take legal action compelling him, did he reluctantly issue a writ against me.
By the early autumn of 1988, Cowgill declared his project to be nearing the point of publication. Despite Georgina’s continued warnings, I remained serenely confident that he could not but draw conclusions from the evidence similar to mine. So he regularly assured me was the case.
Some time before this, I had received an invitation to deliver lectures in Chile. When I mentioned this to Cowgill, he expressed interest in the dates of my absence. I flew to Santiago on 21st September, and that morning he kindly rang to wish me a good flight, checking casually that I was indeed departing on schedule.
The next day, my Chilean host showed me with some embarrasment a succession of faxed articles from the British press, claiming that the Cowgill ‘Interim Report’ had exposed my work as wholly fraudulent. Macmillan and Aldington were now shown to be innocent of wrong-doing, and the handover of Cossacks and ‘Yugoslavs’ represented no more than an unfortunate operational necessity. A running conclusion to these articles was that ‘Count Tolstoy has left the country, and cannot be contacted’.
Thus, it appeared that no one was responsible for any wrong-doing – except the irresponsible author of Victims of Yalta and The Minister and the Massacres. The tens of thousands of victims in 1945 had suffered in consequence of inexplicable mischance. Such an explanation would have been useful to the defence at the Nuremburg Trials.
What appeared odd to some was the purpose of an ‘Interim Report’. The explanation now seems clear. The appointed time of the Aldington trial was fast approaching, and a publication so clearly designed to generate opinion hostile to me might be halted by an injunction, were it to appear too close to the hearing. Moreover, as the event was to show, it could prove effective to publish a further damning edition of the polemic in the wake of the trial, on the pretext of its being the ‘final’ Report.
Before long, it was not only my wife that was warning me against Cowgill. Early in 1988 my friend Harry Chapman Pincher, a renowned expert on intelligence matters, advised me that he had learned from a close relative of Harold Macmillan that the Cowgill ‘Inquiry’ (the quasi-official title it had now assumed) was in fact acting under instructions from the Government.
A year later, in the exotic atmosphere of a Russian Imperial Ball at the Café Royal, my cousin Anne-Marie Obolensky displayed interest in the Cowgill affair, and offered to discover more. As she worked for Kroll Associates, she possessed access to extensive resources. It turned out that Cowgill was no ordinary retired soldier turned businessman, as he had informed me. This was what Anne-Marie learned:
1963/64 Cowgill was the No 3 in the British Services Security Organisation, itself the successor to the now defunct Control Commission. The BSSO was initially run by the Army Intelligence (in 1963 a man called Crash Adams) but it was then taken over and run by MI5 officers. The deputy in 1964 was Leonard Lancy, who was Cowgill’s boss.
Later, a whistle-blower at the Ministry of Defence leaked documents revealing, not only how close was Cowgill’s ‘Committee’ to the Government, but that its prime task was to pervert the course of justice at the Aldington trial. Furthermore, Aldington himself turned out to be a secret member of the ‘Committee’! In a letter dated 2nd November 1986, Cowgill briefed an official at the Ministry of Defence,
regarding the current study I am engaged in concerning the events in Austria in May and June 1945 which I am doing in conjunction with the two surviving senior staff officers of 5 Corps, Lord Aldington (then Brigadier Toby Low BGS) and Brigadier Tryon-Wilson (then Brigadier A/Q) ...
Lord Brimelow (late of the Foreign Office) is also assisting us ...
I would be grateful for your help in this matter as this study is being done in the national interest...
At the foot of the page, a Ministry of Defence official commented sardonically: "Lord Brimelow ‘indep[endent]!"
Officials at the Ministry of Defence, together with their counterparts at the Foreign Office, were ordered by Ministers to provide Aldington before and during the trial with evidence he required, including documents barred to public access. Still more importantly, they were instructed to remove evidence essential to the Defence from the Public Record Office. In the then absence of a Freedom of Information Act in Britain, this they were at liberty to do without revealing their covert purpose.
Later, documentary evidence emerged demonstrating the extraordinary extent of this hidden intervention. A file of particular significance (FO.1020/42) had been withheld by the Foreign Office during and after the trial. Challenged by my friend Lord Braine, formerly Father of the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd avowed it to be lost. However, on learning that Thames Television was planning a documentary film on the subject, he swiftly announced its unexpected discovery by a cleaning woman in a broom cupboard!
On 28 May 1992 the investigative journalist Richard Norton-Taylor published an article in The Guardian, entitled ‘MYSTERY OF A MISLAID FILE’. That evening he rang me, to report with understandable excitement that he had just been telephoned by a senior MoD official, who wished to speak to him. The official insisted on their meeting under the open sky by the Embankment, ‘on the other side of the river, away from the possibility of bugging’. There he confirmed that, when Aldington issued his writs in 1987, measures were co-ordinated by the Foreign Secretary and Minister for Defence (both of whom were friends of Lord Aldington) for the full resources of their respective Ministries to be placed at Aldington’s disposal throughout the coming hearing.
This operation was authorised ‘by Number 10 [Downing Street]’. Norton-Taylor’s informant was the official responsible for the department seconded by the Ministry of Defence to assist Aldington (he could recite by heart many of the relevant WO file numbers). A priority of this assistance lay in concealment of evidence damaging to Aldington’s case. This activity began in a fairly modest way, growing swiftly into a major operation designed to ensure a favourable verdict for Aldington. In consequence, most of the relevant files were hastily withdrawn from the Public Record Office to the respective Departments, where Aldington and his advisers were provided every facility for consulting them.
Throughout the trial, Cowgill conferred every morning with officials at the Ministry of Defence, and after each day’s hearing repaired to the chambers of Charles Gray QC (Aldington’s Counsel, since appointed a High Court judge), to advise on evidence, and discuss fresh measures. In the court-room Cowgill seated himself daily behind Aldington and Gray, constantly whispering advice.
Norton-Taylor’s informant added that, having become increasingly disgusted by the Government’s flagrant interference with the course of justice, he now wished to get the matter off his chest. He was clearly a brave man, who risked losing his job and pension, as well as prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. He vouchsafed that many of his colleagues in the middling ranks of the service were likewise disgusted by the manner in which the Ministry manipulated the archives for covert or partisan purposes. He reiterated that ‘truth will out’, and intimated that more revelations would follow.
There is not space here to recount the history of the libel trial, which lasted three months in the High Court at the end of 1989. The Judge, Michael Davies, who had selected himself from the list for the post, acted throughout as though he were Aldington’s advocate. Among other measures, he ordered a private investigation of the jurors’ circumstances, ordered the public gallery closed to spectators, repeatedly insulted defence witnesses, and at the last moment refused the jury access to the trial transcript. Since Davies’s three-day summing-up continually misrepresented the proceedings, his precaution is understandable.
Unfortunately for Aldington, the judge perpetrated one cardinal error in his summing-up. Having urged the jury to find for Lord Aldington, he warned them not to award ‘Mickey Mouse’ damages. Subsequently it transpired that he understood the expression to be a colloquial term signifying ‘excessively large’ – a contingency to be avoided, lest it facilitate an appeal.
Regrettably for Aldington, the jury took the expression literally, and awarded him damages of £1,500,000 – almost three times larger than any other award in English legal history. The amount of the fine has entered the Guinness Book of Records. There it is likely to remain, for on 14 July 1995 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that it
holds unanimously that the award, having regard to its size taken in conjunction with the state of national law at the relevant time was not “necessary in a democratic society” and thus constituted a violation of the applicant’s rights under Article 10: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of expression’.
In the event, Judge Davies need not have worried. A High Court hearing ruled that I could only appeal if within a fortnight I paid £124,900 into Court, to cover Aldington’s costs. Any extension of time – even a week – was refused. At the same time, the Forced Repatriation Defence Fund, raised by subscribers (its patrons included Graham Greene and Alexander Solzhenitsyn) to enable the case to be fought, was frozen by a special injunction, despite the fact that it was known not to constitute a personal asset. Evidently the High Court feared that funding for the appeal might somehow prove forthcoming. Such unusual precautions may explain this curious exchange between Aldington’s counsel and Judge Davies during the trial:
Gray: My Lord, there is a feature of this case which I will not of course mention even in a non-reportable session, which suggest to me that any appeal on damages is likely not to take place.
Davies: No, I follow that ...
More than twenty years later, I feel a chill on recalling this sinister exchange, which is drawn from the official transcript.
This chicanery was exacerbated by the shortly to become notorious fact that Aldington never incurred any costs, which were throughout secretly paid by the Sun Alliance. Twice in court his solicitors Allen & Overy submitted sworn affidavits that Aldington was paying his own costs, which even the judges found themselves unable to accept. Eventually, in 1994 chairman Sir Christopher Benson acknowledged that the Company had covertly subsidised Aldington’s costs to the tune of £530,000.
Throughout the 1989 trial, the Court was preoccupied with the vexed question of Aldington’s date of departure from Austria in 1945. That he returned to England in the latter part of May to contest the General Election was not in doubt. Nor was it at issue that he left some days before the Cossack hand-overs began on 29th May. Throughout the trial concern was with the extent to which he was responsible for orders implementing the operations.
Prior to Aldington’s initiation of libel proceedings, he had over a period of years supplied dates for his departure ranging from 24 to 29 May. Once it was realised that his participatory role would be subjected to intense scrutiny in court, it became of utmost importance to establish the earliest date possible. Shortly after issuing his writ against Watts, Aldington suddenly recalled for the first time:
I left Austria on 22nd May 1945 before any detailed arrangements had been made about the handover of the Cossacks …
Any earlier date was precluded by the fact that an order issued on the afternoon of 21st May bore his signature.
An official document covertly obtained from his collaborators at the Ministry of Defence declared that Aldington arrived in England on leave on 24th May, but throughout the trial no direct evidence was adduced establishing where he was between early on the 22nd, when he claimed to have left Austria, and the evening of the 24th, when he arrived in Blackpool to contest the parliamentary seat.
This gap he sought to plug with belatedly recalled detail. This included an early morning flight from Klagenfurt on 22nd May, his seeing the sun shining on the snow of the Karavaken Mountains, and his arrival in Naples later that day. There he recalled spending the nights of the 22nd and 23rd, apparently seeing no one and doing nothing capable of corroboration, and eventually returned to England on the 24th. To illustrate how clear was his refurbished memory of events, he added for good measure that on his return he dined twice at the home of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who overcame his modest misgivings and persuaded him to stand as candidate for Blackpool North.
Facts swiftly emerged, which made the veracity of this vividly-described itinerary not a little suspect. Thus, it proved that from 20th May Allied command prohibited all military flights near the Yugoslav frontier, while rain fell throughout 22nd May at Klagenfurt aerodrome. As far as his relations with Eden were concerned, every detail Aldington submitted proved false. As early as 21st March he had written eagerly accepting the Foreign Secretary’s invitation to stand for parliament, and Eden’s diary showed that the two dinners at which he supposedly entertained Aldington never occurred. (The diary was promptly closed for access to the defence).
In his summing-up the judge suppressed the crucial weather evidence, and pronounced Aldington’s detailed account of his relations with Eden an interesting illustration of the fallibility of human memory. Fortunately for Aldington, the judge’s precautionary edict pre-empted any possibility of the jury’s checking his version of events against the trial transcript.
If Judge Davies’s undeviating protection of Aldington throughout the trial appear extraordinary to readers unacquainted with the workings of the High Court, a newspaper article published in the Evening Standard a few months after the trial may serve to clarify the matter.
I thought there was nothing we had not learned about Lord Aldington, following the libel action in which a jury awarded £1.5 million against Count Nikolai Tolstoy in the presence of Mr Justice Michael Davies. But a golfing friend tells me that, although unknown to each other, both Aldington and Davies are members of the historic Rye golf club.
Coincidentally, Aldington has been a member of Rye, one of England’s oldest clubs, since 1957, while Davies joined only relatively recently, in 1985. “He visits during weekends and holidays,” Davies’s clerk at the Royal Courts of Justice tells me. His main club is Stourbridge in the Midlands.
Lord Aldington tells me he started playing golf 65 years ago. “I’ve won the parliamentary golf cup four times,” he says. When I pointed out that Justice Davies was a fellow member, Toby Aldington told me he seldom plays at Rye now. “I’ve never met him there,” he says cheerfully. “I don’t know what he looks like without a wig on.”
However, members of the Rye Golf Club have expressed incredulity that the judge and His Lordship never met there, given that Davies’s home at the small and exclusive club lay just six miles from Aldington’s house. They also sardonically recalled Davies’s fawning reverence for the great and good of the British Establishment.
Aldington’s alibi was vital to his case, which depended on reducing to a minimum his responsibility for the Cossacks’ brutal treatment and betrayal. Of yet greater significance, as even the judge conceded, was its application to the reliability of his testimony, and his character as a witness.
Within a year, evidence establishing Aldington’s true date of departure from Austria in 1945 dramatically came to light. The missing signal had been discovered in the Public Record Office! Dated 7.30pm on 24th May 1945, it reported succinctly:
BGS left 5 Corps for England on FLIAP on 23rd May.
To anyone ignorant of the modus operandi of the British Establishment, this evidence might have appeared more than sufficient to blow Aldington’s case out of the water. After all, as Judge Davies had emphasised during his summing-up:
members of the jury, in the end a document means what it says, what it means in the English language. You have to put yourself back into 1945 and ask yourselves: what does that document mean? What did it convey to the person to whom it was addressed? What was meant by the words used? Because those are the basic questions about a document which have to be faced up to.
The message emanated from a specialist signals unit known as ‘Phantom’, and before long I traced its senior surviving officer, Colonel John Morgan. He explained to me in detail how the unit operated. Established in 1944, its function was to provide Eisenhower and Alexander with accurate information direct from the front line. In Austria, the ‘Phantom’ unit operated its own transmitter from a lorry parked beside Aldington’s caravan. It would have been inconceivable, Morgan explained, that the ‘Phantom’ officer did not know on a daily basis who was the 5 Corps Chief of Staff, whose regular briefings he obligatorily attended. Nor was there any realistic possibility of error, since such rare mistakes as occurred were promptly corrected in the log, as Colonel Morgan showed me from occasional entries in the ‘Phantom’ log-book.
When my solicitors were presented with this evidence of Aldington’s deceit, they arranged with Counsel to bring an action against him for perjury. The Ministry of Defence whistle-blower informed Richard Norton-Taylor that, on the day the Guardian article publicly revealed its existence, ‘Aldington rang the Ministry of Defence, enquiring in a state of some agitation after the ‘Phantom’ file’.
Meanwhile, other pertinent documentation came to light. Early in 1992 I conducted fresh researches in the National Archives at Suitland, Maryland. It was now becoming increasingly clear how serious and relevant was the operation concerted between Eisenhower and Alexander to transfer responsibility for Cossacks interned beside the town of Lienz from the British 5 Corps to the US 3rd Army.
On 22nd May American troops of Patton’s command arrived at the border of 5 Corps territory, with orders to take control of the valley occupied by the Cossacks. That afternoon, the Chief of Staff (BGS) of 5 Corps sent an urgent appeal to 8 Army for all further advance by US troops to be halted:
Do NOT now consider necessary for us to be relieved up to boundary ... as situation in Lienz well in hand and can be organized by one unit.
It was this signal that effectively consigned 25,000 Cossack men, women, and children to death, torture, and slavery in the Gulag. As the ‘Phantom’ signal confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, the BGS who so eagerly intervened to frustrate Eisenhower’s humane design was none other than our friend Brigadier Low, afterwards ennobled by Harold Macmillan as Lord Aldington.
In light of this evidence, confidence brimmed high that justice would finally be done. However, my legal team, experienced though they were, had yet to reckon with the full duplicity of the High Court. Before long I received ominous news. My Counsel informed me that the judge appointed to hear the perjury action, Andrew Collins QC, had ordered the hearing to be held ‘in Chambers’: i.e. in secret. I was astonished, having been brought up to believe that it was a proud boast of English justice that proceedings are conducted openly, so that justice be seen to be done. To my enquiry whether the decision could be challenged, I was told that it could – but in that case, the system ingeniously allowed for Collins to pronounce the application ‘an abuse of process’. The case would then be heard in secret regardless, while the judge would become yet more hostile than his decision already indicated him to be.
The hearing took place at the beginning of 1994, in an underground room of the Royal Courts of Justice. Press and public were rigorously denied entry. The hearing lasted three days, on account of the extent of evidence of Aldington’s perjuries. On the first day the Judge’s prejudice became clear, when he abruptly declared that the ‘Phantom’ signal ‘cannot be correct’. When my Counsel enquired why not, Collins replied with a smile: ‘because Lord Aldington says it is not’.
It being evident that the verdict was decided before the hearing began, my Counsel declared himself unprepared to proceed unless we were guaranteed a transcript of proceedings for submission to the Court of Appeal. This was agreed. Collins duly rejected our submissions, adding for good measure an order for my solicitors to bear costs of this and any future proceedings undertaken on my behalf. This penalty was in turn extended to any firm which might consider representing me, so that thereafter I was effectively prohibited from undertaking legal action, even in my own defence. I had become an outlaw, like my boyhood idol Robin Hood!
Next day my solicitor attended the court-room to receive the promised transcripts, only to be regretfully informed that on each of the trial’s three days the tape-recorders had undergone repeated mechanical failures. Consequently, when the Appeal Court on 23rd July 1996 rejected my application for leave to appeal against Collins’s judgment, their verdict was grounded almost exclusively on what Aldington’s lawyers chose to tell them.
Space here precludes further detail of the machinations which ensued on my revelation of this atrocious war crime. An ironic contrast to the British Government’s concealment of evidence is afforded by the attitude of the Russian Government. A couple of years after the trial President Yeltsin signed a decree permitting me to inspect and photocopy all relevant material held by the Russian Ministries. In January 1993 I visited Moscow, where I received full co-operation from all relevant depositories, and returned with copies of scores of significant documents never released before. This remarkable evidence has yet to be published, as has much else of comparable importance. Fresh eyewitness evidence includes that of a former Yugoslav Commissar, who on 15th May 1945 negotiated with Aldington terms for the handover of thousands of fugitives in Austria: terms which Aldington had denied on oath ever existed.
Alarmed by the revulsion of public opinion at home and abroad, the authorities undertook a further desperate measure to prevent the public from gaining access to the historical evidence of Aldington’s guilt. On 2nd July 1990, his lawyers Allen & Overy issued a threatening letter to all major public and university libraries in Britain. All copies of my book The Minister and the Massacres were required to be withdrawn forthwith, on grounds that it libelled their client. As Aldington had been careful not to pursue any court action against the book (which would have required a jury to read its compromising evidence), an unusual stratagem was devised. The cover of Allen & Overy’s menacing document proclaimed it a ‘Statement in Open Court’, resolving a settlement ‘Between: The Right Honourable Toby Low Baron Aldington Plaintiff - and - (1) Nigel Watts (2) Count Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky Defendants’.
It was on the day prior to circulation of this document that the High Court upheld the damages of £1,500,000 as eminently fair and appropriate, while Judge Davies’s arbitrary freezing of the Forced Repatriation Defence Fund precluded further appeal. Most libraries, including such famous repositories as the Bodleian at Oxford and the London Library, scurried to obey Lord Aldington. Even in Scotland, where English libel law does not run, Edinburgh University complied as abjectly as the rest. The fact that there were some honourable exceptions, like the British Museum library, indicates that the threat was patently unenforceable. Thus British library censorship was essentially voluntary.
No librarian saw fit to seek a response from me or my lawyers.
But for their eager haste to comply with this diktat, the librarians might have noticed that Allen & Overy’s document was in fact a barefaced forgery. Since Aldington had never undertaken proceedings against me in respect of my book, no such ‘Statement in Open Court’ could ever have occurred. When challenged, Allen & Overy asserted that the misrepresentation resulted from ‘error’ – but refused to alert libraries to this contingency.
Plainly, aspects of the history first unveiled in Victims of Yalta appear sufficiently dangerous to require such a bizarre parade of mendacity and conspiracy. Before the prohibition and destruction of copies of The Minister and the Massacres, it had been long since a book in England was censored on political grounds. Indeed, so far as I am aware, the previous instance occurred almost exactly two centuries earlier.