THE COST OF A REPUTATION: Aldington versus Tolstoy
Does a gripping account of a trial have to be the story of a criminal trial? Not if THE COST OF A REPUTATION is anything to go by. The trial described by Ian Mitchell is that in 1989, where Lord Aldington had accused Nacelle Tolstoy and Nigel Watts of libelling him. Tolstoy, a historian had published the first revelations of the events at the end of World War II in which vast numbers of Russian émigrés were given back to the Soviets to be exterminated - in Tolstoy's eyes a war crime to equal many of those heard at Nuremburg. Yet few people had heard of it, and no one was indicted.
In charge of the forces was Brigadier Toby Low, who at some time in May 1945 returned to England to be selected as the Conservative MP for Blackpool - the beginning of the slow rise that would see him become ennobled as Lord Aldington, and take his place in the boardrooms and governors clubs of Britain. Tolstoy argued that Low did not leave Austria until after the terrible order was given and therefore it was he who, contrary to Allied orders, was responsible for the war crime.
Nigel Watts, Tolstoy's co-defendant, came across Lord Aldington much later, when he tried to secure an insurance payment from a company on which Lord Aldington sat as a director. Denied payment by what he felt was double-dealing, his researches revealed the worse incidents of 1945. He published a leaflet written by Tolstoy to expose Lord Aldington's history.
When the trial came it should have been possible to prove the order of events and name of the man on the orders from the official records in the Public Record Office. Some of them Tolstoy had copied when he researched his history books, but when he went back he found that the documents had been sent to various Ministries and then misplaced. As Lord Aldington's mind clarified as the date on which he had left Austria (he gave at least three dates in different interviews) there were no records by which these could be confirmed.
Ian Mitchell has now found why. The documents had been moved to the Ministries so that they could be study privately by his lordship. His friends in the Conservative Party were quite happy to do this and Mitchell quotes them saying so. It is this aspect of the case particularly that has lead Andrew Hunter M.P. to call for a public inquiry.
Mitchell argues that the trial damaged everyone involved. Tolstoy and Watts lost, liable to pay £1.5 million pounds damages, the result of an incredible hubris in attempting to flout so powerful an establishment. For they found themselves handicapped inside the trial by far more than an absence of documents - by the trial procedures themselves. But the dirty dealings and cover-ups did not end with the decision of the jury and Mitchell goes on to describe how public companies paid the legal fees involved and then hid the vast costs from their shareholders, and how the lawyers's charges went on rising and the lengths to which a solicitor will go to ensure that he makes a profit. It's a long way.
This is a book about plots. Accept that Toby Low was not a war criminal and still the events of the trial and its aftermath are ghastly and gripping. Find some way to think that when Tolstoy or Watts, neither of whom was wealthy to begin with, were brought to their most low, of driving them even lower. If you a novelist, with a Thomas Hardy heart for grinding down that which is already ground, then study this story and see how it was done in real life. And remember this was all done through the civil courts, no crime was involved at all. Not at all.
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© L J Hurst 2007