Harry Newton

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Person.png Harry Newton PowerbaseRdf-icon.png
(spook)
Born 1922
Died 1983 (Age 60)
MI5 infiltrator of CND.
Harry Newton was a British left-wing activist and alleged MI5 agent.

Early life

According to a Guardian profile, Newton was the self-educated son of an unemployed labourer. He joined the Communist Party just before the Second World War, and was conscripted into the Army.[1]

A memoir by Don Bateman in Lobster Magazine offers a slightly different account:

Harry Newton was born in 1922 and would only be 17 when the war broke out. He claimed to have joined the CP before the war but I never met him. This story appears to have been one of the many with which Harry romanticised his life and experiences.[2]

Following demobilisation Newton returned to Yorkshire, where he worked for the party while doing unskilled jobs in engineering factories.[3] Bateman met him after the war working in the Communist Party offices in Leeds.[4]

MI5 recruitment

The Guardian reported in 1985 that Newton had been recruited by MI5 while still a member of the UK Communist Party in the 1950s.[5] Lobster reader Laurens Otter recounted the following story from Will Warren:

Will had come out of the Communist Party at the same time as Newton and told me that his divisional committee of the party had once devoted a whole meeting to discussing whether Harry Newton was or was not a police spy. The general view was, apparently, that he was so obviously one, that he couldn't be one in fact.[6]

Break with the Communist Party

Newton left the Communist Party in 1957, in the wave of resignations over the invasion of Hungary. He continued to regard himself as a Marxist, and became involved with the Labour movement, although he refrained from joining the Labour Party.[7]

According to Bateman, "he became a paranoid hater of all things relative to the Communist Party", who theorised that his former colleague Bert Ramelson was a Soviet resident agent.[8]

Newton studied at Fircroft College in Selly Oak, Birmingham in 1959-1960 and went on to take a degree in Economics at Hull[9] where he befriended the Marxist historian John Saville.[10]

He became a lecturer and organiser with the Workers Education Association, working from his home in Selby, North Yorkshire.[11]

Laurens Otter claimed to have spotted Newton taping members of the IMG at a Vietnam demo in 1968. When he drew this to the group's attention, they told him that Newton was a harmless eccentric who thought of himself as a party commissar.[12]

Fircroft Dispute

In 1970, Newton became a lecturer at Fircroft, which was run by the Cadbury Trust.[13]

In 1975 a major dispute erupted when students took control of the college. Although the authorities initially agreed with the students' demands, they were evicted by high court order after five months.[14]

A report by barrister Andrew Legatt for the Department of Education recommended that the principal and tutors who had supported the students should be sacked. Legatt was particularly critical of Newton, the senior lecturer, for his role in fomenting the dispute.[15]

Instead of implementing Legatt's recommendations, the college authorities simply closed Fircroft in 1976.[16]

Principal Tony Corfield later said there was no doubt that Newton was the dominating force in the dispute:

The suggestion that he was following instructions to make trouble in the college I find hard to believe, and I equally find it hard to believe he was an MI5 informer. But the fact is that the college was closed down.'[17]

Institute of Workers Control

In 1971, Newton became treasurer of the Institute of Workers Control. The Institute's founder, Ken Coates, said he found it hard to believe that he was an MI5 agent, but if true it made some of his actions intelligible:

His job as treasurer with IWC was not very onerous. We had little money and a membership of 500. In later years we hardly saw him. But whenever he did appear, he always took up the most belligerent, intransigent position imaginable, and sometimes unimaginable, defending it extremely obstreperously, with the maximum vituperation against everyone else about them selling out, and in general damaging the Ark of the Covenant.[18]

Independent Labour Party

Newton attended the Independent Labour Party summer school in August 1972, according to Bateman, who recalled that he reiterated his hostility to the Communist Party and told him: "he was doing a lot of writing and the most effective publications he felt were opposition ones, such as the house journal of the Economic League."[19]

A few months later, Bateman was sent the September issue of the East-West Digest, containing an article entitled Strategy of Destruction: the ILP Re-Assessed' - By a Special Correspondent', pp. 701-705. The piece listed the membership of the ILP's National Administrative Committee, and highlighted what it called an "overt plan of revolutionary action."[20]

It also pointed out, that 'On Ireland the Party supports the [[Official Sinn Féin|official Sinn Fein]] (the Communist dominated wing of the IRA) and the Peoples' Democracy, through which Bernadatte Devlin came to prominence, as organisations whose objectives are the establishment of a Socialist Workers' Republic.'[21]

Bateman viewed the article as a sensationalist analysis sufficiently well-documented that it's author must have known it was misleading. He attributed it to Harry Newton, an assessment with which he claimed ILP leader Eric Preston agreed.[22]

Newton himself joined the ILP's National Administrative Committee after a year's membership of the organisation.[23]

Bateman later concluded that Newton had been telling his paymasters what they wanted to hear: "The very idea that the ILP, the classical non-Leninist political group, could be a danger to the state is a rollicking piece of fun - in retrospect."[24]

Robert Kemble Trust

In 1981, Newton was named as a trustee in the will of United Reform Church minister, the Reverend Robert Kemble, who left his home to the Robert Kemble Trust and Institute to provide a Christian meeting place in Central London. Newton, who was interested in Christian-Marxist dialogue, took no active part in the trust's affairs because he was in poor health.[25]

CND

In 1981, MI5 officer Cathy Massiter was put in charge of stepped up surveillance of CND. Newton joined CND at MI5's instigation a year later, the Guardian reported.[26]

According to Massiter, his first job was to attend CND's annual conference:

We sort of regarded it as very important to know as soon as possible after the conference who the new people on the national council were so that we could make our usual breakdown of how many subversives were on it and could sort of pass the information along to the interested parties at Whitehall. After that he became involved in CND headquarters.[27]

Massiter viewed Newton as "still very caught up in the idea of the international Communist conspiracy"[28]

Newton filed regular reports about the workings and activities of CND headquarters. Ms Massiter said: 'He (Newton), had a strong opinion that Kent might be a crypto-communist. I personally saw no justification for this whatsoever, but that certainly was the view that he expressed.'[29]

NUM

According to journalist Seumas Milne, Cathy Massiter and another MI5 F Branch officer met with Newton in the winter of 1982-83, in attempt to place an agent close to Arthur Scargill, of whom he was an old acquaintance:

by the winter of 1982, Newton was not in the best of health and it was agreed that he would move back to Yorkshire. At the London meeting with MI5 officers, there was a discussion about whether it might be possible to get Newton a job in the NUM national office when the union moved to Sheffield the following April. Newton was not averse to the idea, but didn't make an application. He died shortly afterwards.[30]

Illness and death

According to his friend Robert Milsom, Newton suffered a heart attack in 1971-72 and remained in poor health, becoming a complete invalid prior to his death in 1983.[31]

Massiter allegations

The allegation that Newton was working for MI5 first surfaced in a February 1985 documentary for Channel 4's 20/20 Vision which was banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority.[32]

The Guardian reported at the time:

The Channel 4 programme interviewed Ms Cathy Massiter, an intelligence officer assigned to lead the team surveilling CND, who left the service last year. Ms Massiter named the agent who had infiltrated CND's London headquarters as Harry Newton, a former treasurer of the Institute for Workers' Control, a left wing think tank, who had joined CND in 1982. Mr Newton died last year.[33]

Massiter claimed that information from CND was passed to Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine through a unit known as DS19.[34]

Among those who defended Newton was Robert Milsom, one of the lecturers who lost his job in the Fircroft dispute:

Ms Massiter has made a series of very serious and alarming accusations, but she has not defamed any living person. In as far as the allegations relate to Harry Newton, well, I find them wildly improbable. I knew him very well.[35]

Another Fircroft teacher Trevor Blackwell said he did not know whether Newton was a spy, but offered the following reminiscence:

Harry had a fund of marvellous stories, which he told with great relish and perfect timing; about the gas strike he led in Yorkshire where, when he subsequently left work to study at Leeds University, a defeated and exasperated management told him that they would have built him his own bloody university if they had known that that was what it needed to get rid of him; of his days in the Communist Party, when he acted as the courier who took the gold to Moscow.[36]

Don Bateman suggested these were tall stories on Newton's part:

Newton did not go to Leeds University but to Hull, where, as a mature student in the sixties, he took a degree in economics. Why would he be taking gold to Moscow? To my knowledge he never went to Moscow.[37]

Bateman speculated that the exposure of Newton, and not of any living agents, may have been a deliberate warning to the Labour movement by MI5.[38]

External Resources



References

  1. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  2. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  3. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  4. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  5. Agenda: The spymasters who broke their own rules / Excerpts from banned TV documentary on the MI5 and Special Branch, The Guardian, 1 March 1985.
  6. Laurens Otter, Re: Harry Newton, Lobster 29, June 1995.
  7. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  8. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  9. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  10. Keth Flett, Saville's Rows, Socialist Review, July 2003.
  11. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  12. Laurens Otter, Re: Harry Newton, Lobster 29, June 1995.
  13. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  14. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  15. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  16. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  17. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  18. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  19. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  20. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  21. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  22. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  23. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  24. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  25. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  26. David Hearst, Kent, Scargill and Gostin 'targets of MI5' / Telephone tapping of dissident group alleged, The Guardian, 21 February 1985.
  27. Agenda: The spymasters who broke their own rules / Excerpts from banned TV documentary on the MI5 and Special Branch, The Guardian, 1 March 1985.
  28. Agenda: The spymasters who broke their own rules / Excerpts from banned TV documentary on the MI5 and Special Branch, The Guardian, 1 March 1985.
  29. David Hearst, Kent, Scargill and Gostin 'targets of MI5' / Telephone tapping of dissident group alleged, The Guardian, 21 February 1985.
  30. Seumas Milne, Inside Story: Scargill and the Spooks, The Guardian, 19 November 1994.
  31. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  32. David Hearst, CND, miners 'under MI5 monitoring' / Telephone tapping of dissident groups alleged, The Guardian, 21 February 1985.
  33. David Hearst, CND, miners 'under MI5 monitoring' / Telephone tapping of dissident groups alleged, The Guardian, 21 February 1985.
  34. David Hearst, CND, miners 'under MI5 monitoring' / Telephone tapping of dissident groups alleged, The Guardian, 21 February 1985.
  35. Gareth Parry, The trouble with Harry / Profile of college lecturer and alleged CND infiltrator Harry Newton, The Guardian, 28 February 1985.
  36. Trevor Blackwell, Agenda: Whatever Harry's game was, trust is the loser / The naming of MI5 agent Harry Newton as the infiltrator of CND, The Guardian, 4 March 1985.
  37. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.
  38. Don Bateman, The Trouble With Harry: A memoire of Harry Newton, MI5 agent, Lobster, Issue 28, December 1994.