Ben Greene

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For other people of the same name, see Benjamin Greene (disambiguation).

Ben Greene (28 December 1901 – October 1978) was a British Labour Party politician and pacifist. He was interned during World War II because of his fascist associations and appealed his detention to the House of Lords. In the leading case of Liversidge v. Anderson, the House famously declined to interfere with ministerial discretion on matters of national security and refused to review his detention.

Early life[edit]

Though born in Brazil with a mother who had been born a German national, Greene's family came to England in 1908. He attended Berkhamsted School where his uncle, Charles Greene, was headteacher and where his cousins, Graham Greene and Hugh Greene, also attended. He went up to Wadham College, Oxford, but became committed to the causes of the Labour Party and the Society of Friends (Quakers) and left without graduating. Until 1923 he worked with the Society of Friends, the Save the Children Fund and the American Relief Administration in humanitarian work in Eastern Europe.[1]

Greene was motivated to get involved in politics almost solely by his belief in pacifism.[2] He returned to London to work for Clement Attlee in the Limehouse constituency for the United Kingdom general election, 1923, where he met John Beckett. In 1924, Greene joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and soon became liaison with Ramsay MacDonald. He fought Basingstoke in the United Kingdom general election, 1924 but without success.[1] He often felt that Labour Party policies were at odds with his pacifism.[2]

He married in 1925 and became a businessman, in England and abroad, serving on Berkhamsted Urban District Council and on Hertfordshire County Council, becoming a Justice of the Peace (JP) in 1937. He unsuccessfully contested Gravesend against Irving Albery in 1931 and 1935. He also continued with human rights work in the Saar and Germany. However, by 1938 he had become disillusioned with the Labour Party, perceiving it as in the grip of communists, and he resigned.[2]

Fascist friends[edit]

Shocked by conditions in Germany, Greene formed the idea that Britain should co-operate with National Socialist officials in order to facilitate the emigration of as many threatened Germans as possible. However, he fell under the influence of National Socialist Ernst Wilhelm Bohle who was all too ready to exploit his naivety. Greene briefly joined the Peace Pledge Union and started to publish the Peace and Progress Information Service (PPIS) with information provided by Bohle. He networked with anyone who was opposed to war, including fascists, even joining the British Peoples Party (BPP) as treasurer.[3]

In December 1939, once World War II had started, Greene ghosted The Truth About the War for the BPP. Attlee saw a copy and was shocked at its "pro-Hitler" tone and claims that the Poles had been the authors of their own misfortune, exonerating Hitler (see World War II crimes in Poland).[4] Greene was a frequent speaker at anti-war meetings and spoke of the "danger of Jewish and American capitalists".[5]


In early 1940, Lord Hampden, in his capacity as Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, approached Maxwell Knight of MI5 on Greene's continued suitability as a JP. Knight felt that he had no evidence on which to remove Greene. At the same time, Vernon Kell was calling for action against the BPP, in particular for Greene and Beckett's internment under Defence Regulation 18B.[5]

The order to detain Greene, for "hostile associations" was signed on 22 May 1940 and Greene was arrested on 24 May.[6] The Reasons for Order cited Greene's membership of the BPP and BCCSE and the content of his speeches, his association with Beckett, and his communications with the German government. It also alleged that he desired to establish a National Socialist regime with the assistance of the German army and harboured German agents.[7] The more specific Statement of Case revealed that the latter allegations had been made by Harold Kurtz.[8]

The Kurtz allegations[edit]

Kurtz was an MI5 agent who posed as a National Socialist German agent recently released from internment in Britain. Kurtz entrapped Greene with another MI5 agent, Gaertner, as witness and alleged that Greene had helped him avoid further internment and clandestinely communicate with Germany, and had told him ways of leaving the country undetected. Kurtz also claimed that Greene had told him that there were "men in this country ready to take over the government after a German victory, men trained in and filled with the proper spirit of National Socialism—a British National Socialism".[8]

Greene denied these serious allegations, claiming that he had reported Kurtz's suspicious behaviour to the police. The police denied Greene's defence and there is evidence that Maxwell Knight had coached the police into lying.[9]

First hearing of the Advisory Committee[edit]

Greene challenged his detention at the Advisory Committee headed by A. T. Miller on 24 July. Though the committee were anxious to hear from the MI5 agents, MI5 refused to allow them to attend, and the committee accepted the agents' statements as "substantially accurate". Greene's detention was confirmed.[10]

The Lord Chancellor's Department was advised and Greene was informed on 10 October of the intention to remove him as a JP and offering him the face-saving alternative of resignation. Greene was removed as a JP on 8 November.[11]

Greene's appeal[edit]

Greene's brother Edmund sought legal advice from Oswald Hickson who had been active in internment cases, from a liberal rather than a fascist motive. Hickson wrote to the Advisory Committee to protest that the Reasons for Order gave no particulars of persons making the allegations. The committee spurned Hickson's approach so he applied for a writ of habeas corpus. The application was heard by the Divisional Court on 21 May 1941 and Greene represented himself. The Home Office was nervous. Greene was well known in political circles and the allegations were serious, a rash of habeas corpus applications from other internees would be unwelcome, and there were dangers that MI5 agents could become compromised.[12]

The court dismissed Greene's application, confident that so articulate and well-connected an internee could not have been prejudiced by the procedure. They were, however, unhappy with technical errors in the drafting of the detention order and criticised the Home Secretary, suggesting a rehearing.[13]

Greene appealed to the Court of Appeal while the Home Office reissued the order and Reasons, now naming Kurtz and Gaertner, confirming Hickson's suspicions.[14]

The appeal was heard by Lords Justice of Appeal Scott, MacKinnon and Goddard on 15 to 16 July. They rejected the appeal on 30 July.[14] Scott delivered the judgment of the court.[15] The court was not able to question the discretion of the Home Secretary, honestly exercised.[16]

Greene appealed to the House of Lords and his case was joined with that of fellow appellant detainee Robert Liversidge. The case was heard as Liversidge v. Anderson and the decision of the Court of Appeal upheld on 3 November.[17]

Second hearing of the Advisory Committee[edit]

In the mean time, Greene's brother Edmund and Hickson had succeeded in turning the tables on Kurtz and discrediting his evidence, though too late for the House of Lords.[18]

A second hearing by the Advisory Committee was convened in November. They now rejected Kurtz's allegations as discredited, and accepted Greene's undertaking not to hinder the war effort and to avoid Beckett and Hastings Russell, 12th Duke of Bedford. Greene's detention order was revoked on 9 January 1942.[18]

A remedy for Greene[edit]

Greene sued in damages for libel and for false imprisonment. The case was hopeless. The purported libel was that in the Reasons for Order which was protected by privilege and whose author was in any case unknown. To succeed for false imprisonment, Greene would have to prove that the Home Secretary made the detention order with no honest belief in the facts stated therein.[19]

Hickson withdrew the action before the final judgment and costs of GBP1,243 were awarded against Greene. Though proceedings were started to bankrupt Greene, these were never brought to court.[20]

Later life[edit]

Greene continued to be involved in right-wing politics. He left the BPP to form the English Nationalist Association, his political ideas becoming, according to A. W. B. Simpson, increasingly fanciful.[vague][20]


  1. ^ a b Simpson (1992) p. 341.
  2. ^ a b c Simpson (1992) p. 342.
  3. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 343.
  4. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 344.
  5. ^ a b Simpson (1992) p. 345.
  6. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 346.
  7. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 347.
  8. ^ a b Simpson (1992) p. 348.
  9. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 349.
  10. ^ Simpson (1992) pp. 349–351.
  11. ^ Simpson (1992) pp. 351–352.
  12. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 357.
  13. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 360.
  14. ^ a b Simpson (1992) p. 361.
  15. ^ R v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs, ex parte Greene [1942] 1 KB 87
  16. ^ Simpson (1992) pp. 361–362.
  17. ^ Simpson (1992) pp. 362–363.
  18. ^ a b Simpson (1992) pp. 366–367.
  19. ^ Simpson (1992) p. 372.
  20. ^ a b Simpson (1992) p. 375.


  • Lewis, Jeremy (2010). Shades of Greene: One Generation of an English Family. Jonathan Cape. 
  • Simpson, A. W. B. (1992). In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention without Trial in Wartime Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-825775-9.