Pretending to die to evade debtors and be a Czech spy puts former Labor MP John Stonehouse in a league of his own when it comes to political notoriety.
His colorful life was detailed in a Channel 4 documentary last week and for some people in the North East it stirred memories of another Labor MP at the time whose antics also appeared to stem directly of a work of fiction.
John Ryman, represented the working-class mining constituency of Blyth as it then was from 1974 until 1987, when it was renamed Blyth Valley.
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He was a pro-fox-hunting London barrister with a taste for the high life that was partly funded by mistresses and former wives – often without their knowledge.
While Stonehouse vanished after faking his own death on a Miami beach in 1974, Ryman was known to have “disappeared” from sight for long periods of time, which tested the patience of Labor bosses. On one occasion, the party’s chief whip, Bob Mellish, went on the radio asking listeners to contact him if they had spotted him.
Ryman was educated at a Quaker boarding school and studied law at Oxford before embarking on a successful career as a barrister.
Intellectually gifted, he became the first tax prosecutor. He also possessed great charm, which he used to the fullest in the following years.
It wasn’t long before the local party wondered what they had gotten themselves into. He was on death row, and it came as a bit of a shock when a newspaper revealed their man had a house they knew nothing about in Hexham where he kept horses to ride in the local hunt.
Ryman was married five times in all, each ending in divorce. His fifth wife, Nicola, was the wealthy widow of an entrepreneur. The money from his, he said, had been invested in a high-yield Swiss bank account and had in fact been spent on a horse, a Jaguar car and a vacation on the Orient Express.
Before he married Nicola, he narrowly escaped legal action by the family of a former mistress after her death when they discovered a handwritten receipt from Ryman for £14,000 which he said had been invested, yet another time, in a Swiss high-yield bank account. After months of legal wrangling, the family got the money back.
In April 1992, Ryman was convicted of defrauding two women out of their life savings. He had pretended to be the manager of a Swiss bank and told the women they would get 22.5% interest, but in fact he paid the money to his ex-wife for alimony . Ryman was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
After serving his sentence, Ryman disappeared from the public eye and died in 2009.