Why where Special Branch watching me even when I was an MP?

Printed in the Guardian

Following media revelations about old MI5 files held on Labour government ministers, the head of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, came to see me at the Foreign Office in 2001 when I was Europe minister. Low key and courteous, he confirmed there had indeed been such an MI5 file on me and that I had been under regular surveillance. However, he was at pains to say, I had nothing to worry about because the file had long been “destroyed” when I had ceased “to be of interest”. Furthermore, he was anxious to impress, I had “never been regarded by the service as a communist agent”. He made no mention of what appears to have been an entirely separate tranche of files compiled by special branch on me and a group of similarly democratically elected, serving MPs.

That special branch had a file on me dating back 40 years ago to Anti-Apartheid Movement and Anti-Nazi League activist days is hardly revelatory. That these files were still active for at least 10 years while I was an MP certainly is and raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty. The same is true of my Labour MP colleagues Jack Straw, Harriet Harman, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Ken Livingstone, Dennis Skinner and Joan Ruddock, as well as former colleagues Tony Benn and Bernie Grant – all of us named by Peter Francis, a former Special Demonstration Squad undercover police spy turned whistleblower.

Formed in 1968, the SDS, an undercover unit within special branch, infiltrated “radical” political movements which it deemed a threat to the UK state. It is documented that Britain’s security services penetrated progressive campaigns, leftwing groups and trade unions during the 1960s-1980s when even noble fights against the evil of apartheid, protests against the Vietnam war, or strikes against worker exploitation, were seen through a cold war prism as “subversive”. Although activists like me vigorously opposed Stalinism, that didn’t stop us being lumped together with Moscow sympathisers, providing a spurious pretext to be targeted.

But Peter Francis states that he inspected our files during the period from 1990 when he joined Special Branch to when he left the police in 2001 – exactly when we were all MPs. Jack Straw was a serving home secretary from 1997, and I was a foreign office minister from 1999, both of us ironically seeing MI5 or MI6 and GCHQ intelligence almost daily to carry out our duties.

Because the principle of parliament’s sovereignty and independence from the state is vital to our democracy, having an active file on sitting MPs deriving from their radical activism decades before is a fundamental threat to our democracy – even more so if special branch considered our contemporary political views or activities as MPs merited such a file.

Though on 6 March 2014, the home secretary, Theresa May, announced a public inquiry into the SDS’s operations, she has so far refused a request from me to include within its remit surveillance of the MPs identified by Peter Francis.

This is intolerable. The inquiry is now being established and should investigate on what basis, and for what purported reasons, MPs were targeted by the SDS, who specifically was monitored, how that took place, what information was collected about them, with whom was this information shared and on what basis.

The House of Commons also needs to know whether this monitoring affected our ability as MPs to speak confidentially with constituents, and what, if any, impact that had on our ability to represent them properly. Did this surveillance by the SDS cause any miscarriages of justice, for example, if a constituent confided in an MP regarding a complaint or claim they intended to pursue against the police or any other state body with which the SDS shared information.

We know, for example, that the campaign to get justice for Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered by racists, was infiltrated by the SDS and that the police blocked a proper prosecution. Did police infiltrators in the Lawrence campaign exploit private information shared by constituents or lawyers with any of us as MPs? Parliament should be told.

At the very least, the home secretary should order the police to disclose all relevant information and, to each of the MPs affected, our complete individual Personal Registry Files. In September 2001 MI5 was forced to open many of its secret files for the first time after an independent tribunal accepted that a blanket ban on releasing information was unlawful under the Data Protection Act.

It is one thing to have a file on an MP suspected of crime, child abuse or even cooperating with terrorism; quite another to maintain one deriving from radical political activism promoting values of social justice, human rights and equal opportunities shared by many British people from bishops to businessmen.

This whole affair also raises a question as to whether the 1966 “Wilson doctrine” now needs expanding to cover surveillance as well as telephone tapping of MPs. That year, after a series of scandals over tapping MPs’ phones, prime minister Harold Wilson told parliament that MPs’ phones should not be tapped and that any change to that position would be a matter for the Commons. The Wilson doctrine has never been contradicted by any of his successors. Indeed, when I was a cabinet minister, Tony Blair reaffirmed it.

The question raised by this evidence from Peter Francis is whether the police and the security services really have their eye on the ball. Their absolute priority should be to defeat serious crime and terrorist threats – and that may obviously involve going undercover in a manner that can be completely justified. When I was secretary of state for Northern Ireland, from 2005 to 2007, I was aware of such undercover operations and of the vital role they often played. But conflating serious crime with political dissent unpopular with the state at the time is different. It means travelling down a road that endangers the liberty of us all.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/25/special-branch-watching-me-mp-democracy

 

An Obituary of the anti-apartheid campaigner Chris de Broglio

Chris de Broglio, who has died aged 84, contributed substantially to South Africa’s expulsion from the Olympic movement in 1970, a pivotal moment in the demise of apartheid.

A champion weightlifter, De Broglio was dedicated to fighting racism in sport and was, with Dennis Brutus, a founder member of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (San-Roc). As Nelson Mandela subsequently told me, the success of the sports boycott campaign was vital. It boosted the freedom struggle at a critical time in the early 1970s when internal resistance had been crushed.

De Broglio was born in Mauritius, to Maurice, a civil servant, and his wife Suzanne. He got into weightlifting as a teenager, having been seriously ill as a child. His parents never found out what was wrong with him, and after a year in bed he recovered, but he remained smaller and shorter than a brother who was only 18 months older than him. He took up weightlifting as a way to build his strength and physique.

Migrating to South Africa to study accountancy, he came into contact with institutionalised discrimination in sport for the first time. South Africa was the only country in the world that excluded “non-white” sportsmen from selection for national teams. He met other weightlifters, including Precious McKenzie, who were being discriminated against. He found it unjust that black and white weightlifters could not train or compete with each other, and decided that needed to be challenged.

From 1950 to 1962 he was South African weightlifting champion and he competed in the World Championships in Sweden in 1958 and Vienna in 1961. He became secretary and then chairman of the Natal and Transvaal Weightlifting Associations, where, in defiance of fellow white sports officials, he helped multi-racial weightlifting organisations. When, in 1954, he organised a multi-racial championship in Durban, the whites-only federation threatened him with expulsion.

By the early 60s De Broglio was working as southern Africa manager for Air France, and he arranged for the chairman of San-Roc, John Harris, to leave the country without the knowledge of the security police to lobby a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This resulted in South Africa’s exclusion from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In 1965, Harris became the only white anti-apartheid campaigner to be executed after he participated in the bombing of a whites-only area of Park station in Johannesburg, which killed one person and injured many others.

In 1963 San-Roc had achieved South Africa’s suspension from world football. The security police put De Broglio under surveillance and threatened his employers, forcing him into exile in London, where in 1966 San-Roc was recreated, operating out of the basement of a hotel leased by De Broglio, the Portman Court in Marble Arch.

The IOC old guard were prevented from reversing South Africa’s suspension from the 1968 Mexico Olympics, when De Broglio organised a mass boycott by most African and Asian countries. By now San-Roc’s leaders – mainly De Broglio and the charismatic Brutus – were regular attendees at meetings of international sports organisations, from football to athletics.

When I was a 19-year-old anti-apartheid activist, De Broglio, with Brutus, became something of a mentor, pushing me to take the leadership of the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign, in which I had expected to be a foot soldier when it was launched in September 1969. Soon its non-violent direct action, including hotel protests and pitch invasions, laid siege to the 1969-70 Springbok rugby tour. The De Broglio family home in Twickenham, not far from the rugby ground, was a distribution point for tickets for demonstrators to invade the pitch.

Threats to wreck the summer 1970 cricket tour, coupled with a San-Roc-initiated boycott by African, Asian and Caribbean countries of the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, forced the tour’s cancellation. Within months, white South Africa was expelled from most international sport, but San-Roc’s work continued to hold and extend the boycott. By the late 1970s white rugby and cricket officials were trying desperately to get it lifted. In 1987 that desperation led De Broglio to help organise the historic meeting between ANC officials and leading Afrikaners, held at Dakar, which helped pave the way for the final defeat of apartheid and the creation of the new South Africa. He was awarded the Olympic Order in 1997 in recognition of his action against racism in sport and in defence of the Olympic Charter.

De Broglio spent his final years in Corsica, giving up the gym onlyat the age of 80. He remained gregarious, with an infectious sense of humour, and was an accomplished cook.

He married June Von Solms in 1954; she died in 1982. He is survived by his second wife, Renee, whom he married in 1988; by the six children of his first marriage; and by 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

• Marie Christian Dubruel de Broglio, weightlifter and anti-apartheid activist, born 14 May 1930; died 12 July 2014

This obituary was originally published on theguardian.com, you can read it here

Global Health

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Streeter—it is a delight to see you in the Chair. Like others, I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) on securing the debate and on the work that he, along with others in the room, has done with the all-party group on global tuberculosis, of which I am a member.

As I declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I visited South Africa in February 2012 with the charity Results UK, which does such important work on one of the most important questions in global health today: how do we move from struggling to control the world’s deadliest diseases to eliminating them? We can control diseases such as TB and HIV, but they continue to represent a terrible burden on individuals, families and communities across the world. In the 90 minutes of this debate, nearly 500 people will lose their lives from just those two diseases.

I am the chair of trustees of a remarkable charitable organisation called the Donald Woods Foundation, in Nelson Mandela’s impoverished homeland of the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape, in South Africa, where it is battling to control the twin epidemics of TB and HIV and to strengthen health services in remote, rural communities. It works closely with the South African Department of Health, and it has screened 150,000 people for TB. It also has nearly 10,000 people on HIV treatment, and it supports outreach to those who would otherwise not be reached. In addition, it has pioneered clinic design for infection control and TB testing.

Despite the huge and highly commendable efforts of the South African Government and of civil society organisations such as the DWF, South Africa continues to battle enormous health challenges, one of the most significant of which is drug-resistant TB. In one small sub-district last year, the DWF reported 49 cases of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis. XDR-TB has evolved to be resistant to our best drugs, and the few treatments that remain are old, toxic and associated with terrible side effects. Treatment success with XDR-TB and multidrug-resistant TB—MDR-TB—is rare. The drugs involved, taken over years with daily injections, steadily destroy quality of life, often leaving patients with permanent disabilities. The burden of treatment is so heavy that many patients choose to default—to give up—and they discharge themselves from hospital rather than continue with what are, essentially, useless drugs that are causing them pain.

I have met people with XDR and MDR in South Africa, and their examples are tragic. I remember the story of a girl who had been confined in a hospital ward for more than two years. The drugs made her physically sick practically every day, she was losing her hearing because of them and her liver was being destroyed by the disease—TB ruined her life. Before the disease, she was doing well in school, and she had a bright career ahead of her, as well as close friends and a good family, but then the disease struck. Eventually, I am sorry to say, she discharged herself from hospital, knowing that, in doing so, she was most likely surrendering her chances of surviving. She returned to her family home, but it was empty—both her parents had died from the same disease. Soon, she also passed away—pale, sick, deaf and alone.

Sadly, that is not an isolated story. South Africa has the highest rate of TB in the world, and behind the statistics are thousands of tragic, grim stories. The worst cases are in gold mining. The deep gold mines are a source of a tremendously lethal form of TB, with all the consequences that brings.

Progress is being made against TB and HIV, but it is far too slow. The diseases continue to ravage health systems across southern Africa. Only 2% of South Africa’s TB burden is drug resistant, although that number is increasing, but that 2% accounts for fully 32% of the national budget for tackling TB.

Our weapons against these diseases are becoming less effective with every passing day, and I am struck by the similarities between drug-resistant TB and antimicrobial resistance, which was such a topic for conversation last week, with the Prime Minister launching his own special commission. We need new drugs that the TB bacteria have not already encountered, and we need a vaccine that kills or prevents infection so that resistance never gets the chance to develop. We need to remember that we have TB here in the UK and that a small but growing percentage of cases in the UK are drug resistant.

When drugs are developed, they must be affordable. Of course, commercial sector organisations must generate a profit, and developing a new drug can cost hundreds of millions of pounds and take years of sustained effort and research. None the less, while we want to find a way to unlock a new generation of drugs for diseases such as TB, we must not find ourselves in a situation where the poorest people cannot afford treatment or where the cost of buying drugs cripples local health services in poor countries.

What is required, then, is an alternative model—one that separates the requirement to generate a profit from the direction of research and that separates the cost of research from the price of the final product. Such a model, which is often described as de-linked, is the only way we will be able to encourage research and development for diseases for which there are no significant financial markets and to ensure that the products that are developed are accessibly priced. Will the Minister therefore commission a report examining the costs and implications of commercially driven development, as against de-linked development models, and use the findings to make the case to other Governments? Perhaps he could respond to that request in his reply.

We know that the system is not working; we know that the imperative to act and to find solutions to these problems is as strong as ever, and we know that the challenge of correcting market failure will dictate the future of efforts to control humankind’s deadliest infectious killers, yet we are no closer to breaking the deadlock. For the sake of the world’s poorest, our own national health service and, ultimately, our health in this country—these diseases are very infectious—I ask that DFID champion alternative, non-commercial models of development and thus help to develop the new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics that will help us to see the end of TB, HIV and malaria in our lifetimes.

Interview with Adrian Rutherford of Belfast Telegraph

BY ADRIAN RUTHERFORD – 05 MAY 2014

Q You were born in Kenya and grew up during the apartheid era in South Africa. What are your memories of that?

A They are very sharp – for example, my mum and dad being woken up in the middle of the night and being arrested, and of my room being raided by apartheid secret police who searched through my motor racing files for incriminating evidence against my parents, which of course wasn’t there.

I can remember my mother being issued with a banning order which prevented her from talking to our teachers or taking part in any kind of social or political activity.

They also stopped her from communicating with another banned person.

And then my father was banned a year after her.

They had never banned a married couple before, and because banned people couldn’t communicate with each other, they had to give them special permission and clauses allowing my parents to talk to each other.

Q You would also have seen some of the appalling violence?

A There was horrendous treatment of black people. The son of a black maid of our family was just savagely beaten in the street for doing nothing other than whistling as he walked along, minding his own business.

Q John Harris, an anti-apartheid campaigner, was convicted of murder and hanged for his part in a bomb attack at Johannesburg Railway Station which killed a 77-year-old woman and injured 23 others. Why did you speak at his funeral?

A I was 14 or 15 at the time and he was a family friend, although I totally disapproved of – and deplored – the bomb attack.

He intended it to be a spectacular protest against apartheid, at a time when Nelson Mandela was locked up on Robben Island and all the opposition had been banned.

He telephoned a 15-minute warning asking them to clear the concourse. At his trial it was confirmed police deliberately ignored the warning.

To this day I remain totally opposed to what he did, but there was nobody able to read the address at his funeral, and so I volunteered to do it.

Q Your parents were eventually forced to leave South Africa.

A They stopped my father working as an architect. There was little work so we left in 1966 and came to the UK.

Q But you continued to protest against apartheid, including a South African rugby tour to the UK?

A Yes. I was, and remain, a sports fanatic and so I, as a young anti-apartheid activist, felt that we had to physically stop these Springbok tours by running on the pitches, by laying siege to the team in their hotels and so on.

Actually, the rugby match scheduled to take place at Ravenhill in Belfast was cancelled because of the threat to security. One took place in Dublin, and there was a big demonstration there.

There were 25 matches, and we demonstrated and interrupted the matches at Twickenham, Murrayfield and right across the country to the extent that the cricket tour that summer was cancelled and white South African teams never toured again until after apartheid was abolished.

Q You were branded South Africa’s public enemy number one at one stage?

A Yes, I was referred to that in the 1970s.

I was sent a letter bomb by the South African security forces, which fortunately didn’t go off. Similar letter bombs assassinated a lot of other anti-apartheid leaders around the world.

I was also framed for a bank theft.

I didn’t know anything about it and I was acquitted, but it was later shown to be the work of the South African security force.

Q How did all this make you feel?

A It reinforced my view that we were being successful. Being branded public enemy number one didn’t bother me.

Being sent a letter bomb did bother me, being prosecuted for an offence I hadn’t committed certainly bothered me.

Although people disagreed with me politically, vehemently and bitterly, no-one ever said I was dishonest.

Q In that context the row over donations when you ran for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 2007 must have hurt you?

A It was during the last tough period as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when my mind was focused elsewhere, but people didn’t follow the procedures I’d put in place. We hadn’t reported all the donations within the 30 day limit as we were required to, and I paid the price when I discovered what happened.

I shopped myself, and I got no thanks for it. It was the worst thing that happened to me in my political life.

Q What were your thoughts when you were told you had been appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – did you know much about the place?

A I knew a bit about it. I had visited on a number of occasions. I wasn’t an expert on the peace process because I’d been involved in other ministerial and cabinet jobs, but I had taken a long-term interest.

I was thrilled because it was a chance to make a difference. That was my watchword throughout my time in government, and has been throughout my political life.

The fact that I was able to do that by helping to negotiate the historic peace deal which devolved government, which I think is irreversible, is one of the proudest things that I have done.

Q Did you really believe at the start that one day the DUP and Sinn Fein would go into government together?

A Nobody else thought it was achievable, but I actually thought it was possible. I had a sense from the beginning that it was achievable, but it was still one of those ‘It will never happen’ moments right up until it actually happened.

I thought it was achievable because I had a sense that was the way history was going, if we could do the necessary heavy-lifting to get everything in place, including Sinn Fein supporting policing and the rule of law in Northern Ireland.

I was actually the only optimistic one in my office and amongst the commentariat when I arrived in May 2005.

Q And you say it’s now irreversible?

A I do think so. There will remain bumps – we have just experienced one with Gerry Adams’s arrest, which is actually more of a minor tsunami to the process, but I think the fundamentals are irreversible.

You have dissident republicans trying to undermine it but they are tiny and isolated, albeit dangerous when they get their act together. You also have loyalist extremists who have not signed up either.

I think actually the problem of the alienation of loyalists is a big, big challenge and I think they have got legitimate interests and legitimate concerns. I’m not talking about the criminal side, I’m talking about communities who feel left behind. I think that remains to be addressed. It’s no good everybody else denying it. It’s a reality.

Q What can be done?

A In the last nine months of my period as Secretary of State, I engaged with loyalists including what one of my key civil servants euphemistically described as men in uniform, in a way that no Secretary of State had done before, and showed their ideology respect and their culture respect, and I think that’s what needs to happen.

You don’t have to agree with people, you don’t have to approve of all they do, to nevertheless say you are part of Northern Ireland society and your religion is legitimate and important.

Q So do you think it was a wise move antagonising loyalists by removing the flag from Belfast City Hall?

A I’m a former Secretary of State, Northern Ireland is now – happily – governing itself, and so these matters have to be resolved by Northern Ireland’s politicians. This is a matter for them.

Q You caused a stir after you left Northern Ireland when you published your memoirs. The Attorney General, John Larkin, tried to prosecute you under a 19th century act, accusing you of scandalising a judge.

A The act was almost medieval in origin actually, and of course that legislation has now been wiped off the statute book outside of Northern Ireland and across the Commonwealth.

Q Were you surprised by Mr Larkin’s intervention?

A I was astonished by it, and the fact that he had to retreat and withdraw the prosecution was a profound act of common sense.

Q You did have to clarify what you had written though?

A I gave him a statement of comfort stating what I had said all along, that I was not seeking to impune the judge’s integrity or his credibility as a judge, but still I thought he’d done the wrong thing in this instance, and I explained that in my book.

Q Why do you think Mr Larkin took such offence to it?

A I’ve no idea – it was an excitable over-reaction which was completely incomprehensible to me, to British government ministers, parliamentarians and politicians across the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. There was almost unanimous condemnation of it.

It resulted in a change to the law, and I hope it will do so in Northern Ireland in due course, which is a good thing.

Q Mr Larkin called for an end to Troubles prosecutions. You support that?

A I think he is right on this. Whether the particular vehicle he suggested is right is another matter, but I think Northern Ireland’s leaders will have to come back to this agenda sooner rather than later if society isn’t just going to be dogged, haunted and crippled by the past.

Q But you accept relatives want justice?

A Of course, and if I were one of the many hundreds of victims I would feel equally bitter and frustrated and distrustful of such suggestions.

However, it is the responsibility of political leaders to resolve these problems, not to shy away from them, and the blunt truth is that most of the victims will never get closure of any kind under the conventional, legal police process.

You cannot get the evidence sufficient to bring these cases to trial.

That being the case, it reinforces even more the necessity to handle this in another way.

It cannot be an amnesty. People accused me of wanting that, and that is simply not true.

John Larkin is suggesting a separate judicial process. In 2005 I introduced the Northern Ireland Offences Bill to Parliament, which I later withdrew, which supported a separate judicial tribunal.

It may be that if those responsible for atrocities and offences on all sides could volunteer in a certain process to account for what they did and bring some closure and explanation to the victims, but then be given immunity – that could be the only way to address some of these offences.

There’s a very big difference. An amnesty is a pardon. No-one should be suggesting that.

Q The issue of on-the-runs has been in the news. What is your understanding of what went on?

A I’ve been very clear and open about it. It was a conventional police administrative process where people asked whether they were wanted, the PSNI and other police forces in Britain investigated the cases and if they weren’t wanted, if there wasn’t sufficient evidence to pursue them, then they were told that.

It was just a normal police administrative process that had been going on from 2002 – at least. There was no amnesty, there was nothing surreptitious, underhand or illegal about it.

Q Senior unionists, including the First Minister, said they were unaware of this?

A I’ve heard what Peter Robinson has said, and I have a lot of respect for Peter. All I can say is that I operated with total integrity, as did the Chief Constable at the time, Hugh Orde, as did all those involved.

I never knew anything about the individual cases, nor should I have done. It was a police and legal process.

Q Do you think Mr Robinson should have known?

A I’m not commenting on that at all. I would just observe that the Eames-Bradley report of 2009 specifically mentioned over 200 cases which have been processed in this way. So it is curious that a lot of politicians have had a sudden amnesia about it all. There was a public document. How you can say you didn’t know about it? I don’t know.

Q You’re a campaigner for homosexual equality. The Assembly has failed to back gay marriage – is that disappointing?

A I voted for gay marriage, when I was Secretary of State I introduced a ban on discrimination on the grounds of goods and services. For example bed and breakfasts saying no gays, just like they used to say no Catholics, or in London no blacks.

The first civil partnership, ironically, was in Belfast.

This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly, but my worry with the Assembly and the system of government is that it seems to me to be paralysed on very many key issues which are actually bread and butter issues, and I’m not particularly referring to gay marriage in that sense.

Northern Ireland has a big series of social, economic and employment challenges, and I think they need to show greater dynamism, but then it’s their show now.

Q I think many voters would share that frustration.

A It is frustrating for voters, and I understand that, but from where Northern Ireland has been, this democracy is very young. It will take time and we need to show some patience.

Q Another big issue in the coming months is the Scottish referendum on independence. Are you concerned that a yes vote could impact on Northern Ireland?

A I would be very concerned if Scotland voted for independence. I hope it won’t do, because it would be really bad for the UK and for Scotland.

Northern Ireland and Wales would be very small, junior partners with England, without Scotland being alongside them. It upsets the balance of the UK.

Northern Ireland is in a separate constitutional position where its own future is subject to a separate process. No doubt [it could increase agitation for Irish unity] but there is a process established for that if that issue needs to be addressed in the future.

Q When you look back at your political career are you satisfied? Do you think you achieved as much as you could?

A I wish I had never entered the Labour deputy leadership contest because I didn’t do it well for a whole variety of reasons and it ended with a kind of opprobrium which was not really my fault.

But that apart I’m proud of what I did and my proudest experience is my time in Northern Ireland.

Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Westminster Abbey

Nelson Mandela would have been humbled by this occasion, perhaps wistfully recalling with his wonderful smile, that British Christian missionaries at his primary school decreed his first name. Who knows, maybe they were privy to the translation of his birth name: Rolihlahla – or ‘looking for trouble’?

The herd boy turned freedom fighter, the prisoner turned president, never forgot his British connection. Indeed he revered it – even during those long decades in that cold cell on Robben Island when the anti-apartheid struggle was so bitter; facing ruthless, brutal repression at home, and when there was mostly a majority in the House of Commons against him and his African National Congress.

Yet tens of thousands of British citizens supported his fight for freedom: those courageous bishops, Trevor Huddleston, Ambrose Reeves and David Sheppard who led both from the pulpit and the street; grannies who boycotted South African oranges; students who forced Barclays Bank to withdraw from South Africa; trade unionists who gave solidarity; protesters who disrupted sports tours by apartheid-selected teams; and a few stalwart MPs like Neil Kinnock, Richard Caborn, Bob Hughes and David Steel.

Nelson Mandela never missed an opportunity to thank them all. Although his generosity to former opponents was legendary, he never forgot who was on his side and who wasn’t. Sadly, great causes, from slavery abolitionists, to suffragettes, to anti-apartheid campaigners, are invariably unpopular at the very time they most need support – only to be glorified, even sanctified, once they have triumphed.

Not only his renowned wisdom, tolerance and steely leadership, but Nelson Mandela’s endearing personality made him perhaps the international icon of our era – with, at least to those who had the privilege of knowing him, an impish, mischievous wit. Apologising for not being able to attend our wedding in 2003, he asked: ‘but perhaps I can come the next time?’

At Cardiff Castle in 1998 on a burning hot day, he kept a long line of VIPs waiting as he spotted a group of primary school children. He stopped. The VIPs sweltered, the children bemused. Then he proceeded to conduct the by now delighted youngsters to an impromptu ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ – doubtless taught him by those Christian Missionaries.

‘The thing we missed most of all on Robben Island’, he once told me, ‘was the magical, innocent sound of children at play.’
Including his own of course.

There will never be another like Nelson Mandela – truly an inspiration to us all, and for evermore.