The Lynskey tribunal (1948) was a tribunal of inquiry into allegations of corruption among British government ministers and civil servants. The allegations raised public alarm and disgust in the economic climate of austerity that prevailed in contemporary Britain. Though there were no prosecutions, the enquiry resulted in ministerial resignations.
The years following the Second World War saw the United Kingdom suffering from widespread material shortages and from rationing more severe than it had been during the war. During 1948, allegations began to surface that ministers and civil servants were taking bribes to help businessmen circumvent the rules. Home Secretary James Chuter Ede established a tribunal under High Court judge Sir George Lynskey, assisted by Godfrey Vick KC and Gerald Upjohn KC, and with a broad ranging remit to enquire into the allegations. The enquiry was thought to be sufficiently important to recall Attorney-General Sir Hartley Shawcross from his mission to the United Nations, where he was completing the administration of the Nuremberg Trials, so that he could lead for the government's interest. Goodhart argued that using Shawcross's elite forensic skills enhanced the efficiency, effectiveness and reputation of the tribunal.
The principal allegations centred on the activities of Sydney Stanley (ne Kohsyzcky, alias Rechtand) a fraudster, illegal immigrant from Poland and undischarged bankrupt. Stanley mixed with the great and the good of London society and rumours circulated that he was able, through his government contacts, to shortcut "red tape" and arrange preferential treatment, in return for monetary bribes.
It was alleged, inter alia, that Stanley had taken money from:
- Harry Sherman, of Sherman brothers, football pools promoters who was seeking:
- An importer of pinball machines who sought further import licenses.
Junior minister John Belcher and director of the Bank of England, and former president of the TUC, George Gibson were accused of corruption and they had certainly received gifts from Stanley including suits for which Stanley had provided the clothing coupons. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Hugh Dalton was also accused, as was Minister of Works Charles Key, and Robert Liversidge, a businessman whose internment during World War II had been something of a cause célèbre. The informal nature of the proceedings, convened without any defined indictment, led to a frenzy of speculation and allegation in the press.
The tribunal sat in public for 26 days hearing witnesses at Church House, Westminster, with Stanley in attendance. It was a great public spectacle. The tribunal rose just before Christmas 1948 and reported on 28 January 1949.
Findings and aftermath
The enquiry concluded that Belcher and Gibson had been influenced in their public conduct and the police were of the view that they could be charged though Shawcross argued that prosecution would not be in the public interest so long as they resigned. Belcher and Gibson resigned. The civil service, Dalton, Key, Liversidge and others were exonerated. Stanley was proved a liar. Though no steps were taken to prosecute Stanley, there was a widespread sentiment that he ought to be deported. He left the UK, somewhat clandestinely, for Israel in April 1949.
The tribunal led to the establishment of a Committee on Intermediaries to examine "how far persons are making a business of acting as ... intermediaries between Government Departments and the public, and to report whether the activities of such persons are liable to give rise to abuses..."
We jealously keep our political life and Civil Service above suspicion, but does this mean that we do not expect business life to be too honest? May palms be greased there openly or under a disguise? Is that ordinary or almost necessary? I have been told that it is.
— Radio broadcast, 2 January 1949
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