MovieChat Forums > Longford (2006) Discussion > Letters between Hindley and Longford

Letters between Hindley and Longford

One of the things I wished we could've seen more of in the film (though I realize it would have added to the length by a fair bit, so I understand why they opted only to show a few fragments of voiceover readings) was the correspondence between Longford and Hindley. Especially once Lady Longford has been shown to sit down and read them...I can't help but be curious as to just what it was that turned her position around so completely, from hating the very mention of Hindley's name to actively joining in the campaign to help her.

The book "The Lost Boy" by Duncan Staff, about the Moors Murders and more specifically about Myra and the still-missing body of one of the victims (Keith Bennett), has come up in other threads here. When I was searching for a link to post for someone, I came across this article from the Guardian back in 2006 and thought it was worth posting. I don't remember how much of it made its way into the book itself.

I'll try to post the body of it here, in case the link goes dead or "ages out" at some point. There are other interesting links at the source, too, from back when Hindley died in 2002, and some from before.

Dangerous liaison

For 35 years he championed her cause, yet to Myra Hindley Lord Longford became a 'pestilential pain'. Duncan Staff, who knew both of them, re-examines their relationship in light of letters made public here for the first time

Myra Hindley was still in love with Ian Brady when Lord Longford first went to visit her in Holloway Prison in autumn 1968. It was two years since her conviction for the Moors murders and she confronted the Earl with an extraordinary request: she wanted him to persuade the Home Office to permit inter-prison visits between her and Brady.

Frank Longford, as minister for Germany in the Attlee government, had met concentration camp guards but, according to his friend and biographer Peter Stanford, the enormity of Hindley's crimes "made even him pause to draw breath for a moment." But Hindley had formidable powers of persuasion and Longford stayed to hear her out. "Frank was extremely sharp. He was alive to what was going on, but believed that no one was beyond redemption - not even Myra Hindley," says Andrew McCooey, Hindley's solicitor. Longford was by now a member of Harold Wilson's cabinet and Hindley the most reviled woman in the country. The meeting at Holloway ended with Longford agreeing to do as she requested, and for the next 35 years he continued to argue her case.

For all that, by 2001, when Longford died, Hindley had cut him off. She would not permit him to visit her and had come to see him as a liability. She wrote to me while I was making a BBC documentary on her case for freedom: "It is a task even beyond Hercules to gag Frank Longford... if the dangerous dogs act was still in force, I'd take it upon myself to muzzle him."

How the man most closely associated with Myra Hindley's campaign had fallen so far from favour, and what that says about the continuing public obsession with her crimes, are questions that a new drama, Longford, to be broadcast by Channel 4 later this month, attempts to answer. In general, the film represents Longford fairly, but in the end it's a drama, not a documentary. Factual details and the balance of relationships are distorted, notably between Brady and Hindley - to Hindley's advantage. This matters still, in particular to the family of the last missing victim, Keith Bennett. To them, this is an unresolved case, and Hindley might have done more to lay it to rest had she not been so preoccupied with her own image and chances of parole.

After Hindley's death I was passed her personal papers in the hope that they might help locate the body of Keith Bennett. It was thought her papers might provide a clue. I don't yet know if that will prove to be the case, but the documents do shed light on the secrets behind the Moors murders and on the true nature of Hindley's relationship with Longford.

In letters home to her mother Nellie, Hindley relates how, when they first met, she sat and listened to Longford's account of his conversion to Catholicism. This must have taken some doing. A rejection of Christianity and its role in "subjugating" the working class, lay at the heart of her relationship with Brady. Nevertheless, Hindley sought common ground. Longford particularly admired the Franciscans - and she had been baptised and confirmed in the monastery church of St Francis in Gorton, east Manchester. McCooey thinks it would be wrong to say Longford was duped by her. "You have to understand that a deep religious conviction underpinned everything Frank did," he says. "That did not mean he was naive; it did mean that he was willing to set aside doubts and cynicism in pursuit of the goodness that he felt lay within every individual."

It did not take long before the newspapers discovered that Longford was visiting Holloway. Rather than eschew publicity, he courted it. A close friend of Hindley's told me that this decision was to have disastrous consequences for her: "He started the whole thing. He got the Sun to come along and photograph him going through the gates. Until then the story had started to fade away - his involvement kept it on the front pages."

Hindley did not initially grasp the effect of her relationship with Longford, reasoning that having "friends in high places" could only help her cause. Longford knew everyone from the prime minister down. He'd helped Beveridge lay the foundations of the welfare state and been a minister in two Labour governments. She was delighted when he was made a Knight of the Garter. If anyone could arrange for her to see Ian again, surely it had to be Frank?

This hope, and her attachment to Brady, survived for some years. But the drip-drip of disappointment took its toll and in 1972 Hindley wrote to Brady to tell him it was all over. Longford's role was now no longer to secure inter-prison visits - it was to get her out of prison altogether. Hindley began to attend mass every week.

Longford was convinced that the reversion to her childhood faith was genuine. But in a letter to her mother, Hindley confessed that, while she had agreed to attend mass, she doubted she would "see the light" again. The press, informed by Longford of her renewed faith, pursued the story. In 1972 the Daily Express tracked down Father William Kahle at the Abbey of Our Lady in Chimay, Belgium. He had just left Holloway after six years as the prison's priest. He told the reporter Colin Lawson, "Lord Longford said to me when he had seen Myra on one occasion, 'Has she not changed a great deal? Hasn't her personality changed?' I told him, 'I don't think so.' "

The story ran on the front page, under Hindley's arrest photograph. Kahle had his doubts about her religious conviction, but none about the effect the coverage would have: "I must stress that the publicity will not do Myra any good and will only be worse for her, possibly set her release date back many years - and just think of the parents and the neighbours and all those who were concerned in the case."

The priest was right. The former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, William Palfery, said that "do-gooders" like Longford were living in cloud- cuckoo-land, and called for the return of hanging. It was a pattern that was to repeat itself over the next three decades.

Longford's wife, Elizabeth, was at first deeply opposed to his involvement with Hindley. She told the Daily Express's Jean Rook, "I didn't want Frank to have anything to do with these people. I wanted him to keep his hands clean of these monsters." Over the course of their marriage, Lady Longford fought with her husband over just one other political issue - his inquiry into pornography, which led to him being labelled "Lord Porn". He shook off the tag only when a sub-editor on the Sun came up with a replacement: "Lord Wrongford".

But Elizabeth Longford's opposition weakened over time. In December 1976, she finally agreed to accompany her husband to Holloway. She and Hindley became firm friends. When Myra's sister Maureen died, Elizabeth wrote to Nellie Hindley:

"Our dear Myra has just told me about the terrible tragedy in your family caused by the loss of Maureen, and I want to send you my deepest sympathy... I do understand the agony of a mother like yourself. It seems so terribly unnatural that a young and happy girl should leave this world before her own mother."

Frank Longford lobbied successive home secretaries to release Hindley, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his courting of the newspapers helped make it politically impossible for them to do so. He forwarded the replies he received to her in prison. One, from William Whitelaw, dated January 29 1982, reads, "The joint parole board... has again felt unable to recommend that a date should be fixed for the case of either prisoner." A wobbly hand, more likely Longford's than Hindley's, has underlined the words "barring any unforeseen circumstances" as though finding some glimmer of hope in these words.

McCooey says Longford's actions were driven by a sense of injustice: "This was an important point of principle. When hanging was abolished, it was never intended that it would be replaced by the punishment of incarceration until death. It was clear that Hindley was no longer a risk. She had been punished, and Frank believed she should be allowed to go free."

In 1985, Longford's support was tested to breaking point: Brady revealed to a journalist that there were another two bodies buried on Saddleworth Moor. Hindley admitted her involvement. The police reopened the search and recovered the body of Pauline Reade; Keith Bennett has never been found. In the ensuing firestorm of publicity Hindley abandoned her latest application for parole. Once over the shock, Longford resolved to stand by her. But he was in for a final, painful surprise.

Lord David Astor, a former editor of the Observer and another rich and powerful friend of Hindley's, decided that the only way to save her from death behind bars was to change strategy. He set about trying quietly to re-shape public opinion. This could not be achieved so long as she remained close to Longford. "David's view was very clear," McCooey says. "He wanted carefully targeted articles in upmarket publications that might influence decision-makers, rather than constant coverage in the tabloids. Myra agreed with him. She felt that Frank kept the temperature of the case up: for every step forwards, there were seven back."

Longford, who had supported her for 20 years, destroying his reputation in the process, found that prison visiting orders stopped arriving in the post. He spent much of the early 90s in the hope of a reconciliation. A letter on House of Lords notepaper, dated January 1 1992, reads, "Thank you very much for the Christmas card with its message of friendship for Elizabeth and me. I cannot resist telling you how much I miss coming to see you, but understand your feeling that it is better not to."

Although Longford took his ostracism with good grace, he refused to stay quiet. In 1995 he proudly sent Hindley an extract from Hansard showing how he had given Home Office minister Baroness Blatch "an uneasy time" over her case. On and on he went - giving interviews to the Manchester Evening News, the Sun, the News Of The World, television.

Hindley expressed her exasperation in a letter to me: "Frank has been a pestilential pain in the neck over the years with his 'campaigning' and he glories in the publicity himself. God help me; he wrote an article a couple of months ago which was published in the Catholic Herald, and was over the moon because they offered him a column once a month where, he said, he can write whatever he wants about me to promote my cause. God knows I've caused so much suffering in my life, but this is a cross that I can well do without!" Within two years of this letter, both Hindley and Longford were dead.

· Longford is on October 26 at 9pm on Channel 4. Duncan Staff's book on the Moors murders, The Lost Boy, will be published next year by Bantam Press

Does anyone know if the other books written about the case put more focus on the letters between the two of them? It's a pity if they've been lost or just never published in full; it would be a fascinating addition to the movie. Even if they were mundane, everyday topics, Hindley's writings would probably be quite telling in how she managed to manipulate the Longfords (and lord knows who else) to go to bat for her over the years.

~ ~