David Aaronovitch has an excellent column in The Times today about the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker. If you have heard of Baker at all, it will be for his taste in conspiracy theories concerning the death of the weapons expert Dr David Kelly. I recommend you read the whole article, which includes an informative precedent whose denouement I wasn't previously aware of. This was the murder of an elderly lady, Hilda Murrell, in 1984, and the suspicion - much promoted for years afterwards by the eccentric parliamentarian Tam Dalyell - that Mrs Murrell's anti-nuclear activities had drawn her to the malevolent attention of the security services. David writes:
The Dalyell idea of a Murrell conspiracy mirrors in almost every important detail the Baker idea of the Kelly murder, with the dismissal of the “official version” as somehow deficient, and in the build-up of anonymous information. And, like Mr Baker’s accusations, Mr Dalyell’s speculations were not victimless. As far as I know Mr Dalyell has never apologised to those police officers, Home Office staff and secret service personnel whom he effectively slandered and whose time he squandered. Mr Baker happily puts the Thames Valley Police, the pathologists and (by implication) Tony Blair in the frame, and once more causes upset to the Kelly family.
But I'm afraid this is too kind to Norman Baker, whose public pronouncements I have been following with horrified fascination. Six months ago Baker floated a new theory in an interview with my local paper, the Brighton Argus. (Baker is MP for Lewes, the neighbouring constituency to Brighton Kemptown.) He said then: "Robin Cook was on Ministry of Defence land, I believe, when he died and certainly I have doubts over what happened."
Consider what this speculation requires Baker to consider as serious propositions. They are implications rather than assertions, but they are ineluctable. First, Robin Cook's death while out hill-walking might have been murder. Secondly, Tony Blair might be complicit in that murder for political reasons. Thirdly, Robin Cook's widow, who was with her husband when he collapsed, must have either participated or colluded in the murder; at a minimum, she must possess information about the violent death of her husband that she has chosen not to disclose.
David comments on the upset to the Kelly family from Baker's fantasies. I hope those fantasies are unknown to Mrs Gaynor Cook, and will stay that way.
UPDATE: Here is a contemporary Guardian report, dated 21 December 1984, of Tam Dalyell's conspiracy theories concerning the murder of Hilda Murrell:
The Home Office is investigating allegations by the Labour MP Mr Tam Dalyell, that a 78-year-old Shrewsbury woman died after a violent encounter with British intelligence officers she discovered searching her home for sensitive documents concerning the Belgrano affair. The claims, made in the House of Commons yesterday by the MP for Linlithgow, were denied by the police, whose own investigation into the mysterious death of Miss Hilda Murrell earlier this year is now in its ninth month.
One point that's worth noting about the report is that Dalyell was, if not encouraged, then at least not discouraged, by a parliamentarian whose reputation for sense stands deservedly higher: Paddy Ashdown, then Liberal MP for Yeovil. The report refers to comments made by both men in the House the previous day. Here is an account of Ashdown's comments, taken from a worthless book entitled Unlawful Killing: The Murder of Hilda Murrell, by Judith Cook, 1994, p. 107:
He had not, he said, been into the matter as fully as had Dalyell, but he had the highest respect for Robert Green [Miss Murrell's nephew] and was deeply concerned at the serious allegations that had been made. He reminded the House how often in the past they had subjected Dalyell to ridicule only to discover that he had been in the right. "In the absence of detailed answers to the detailed questions which the Honourable Member for Linlithgow [Dalyell] has put, I believe there is only one way forward: a full inquiry under a High Court judge."
The number of times, in a long political career, that Dalyell was subjected to ridicule only to be proved right was, to the best of my recollection, zero. This total includes - it assuredly includes - his campaigns over the sinking of the Belgrano, which he imaginatively attributed to Mrs Thatcher's desire to scupper a Peruvian peace plan.
Ashdown is an honourable politician for whom I have gained a lot of respect. Serious though the issue of Miss Murrell's murder plainly is, I'm relieved nonetheless to find that there were reasons early in Ashdown's political career (he became an MP in 1983) for not regarding him as the substantial figure he is now. It wasn't merely misjudgement on my part to have failed to perceive his strengths.