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Toby Austin Richard William Low, 1st Baron Aldington,[1] KCMG, CBE, DSO, TD, DL, PC, (25 May 1914 – 7 December 2000), was a British Conservative Party politician and businessman best known for his alleged role in Operation Keelhaul, the forced repatriation of Russian, Ukrainian and other prisoners of war to the Soviet Union where many were executed.

Life[edit | edit source]

He was the son of Colonel Stuart Low, who died in action in 1942, and Lucy Atkin, daughter of the Lord Atkin. He was educated at Winchester College (where he later became Warden), and at New College, Oxford. He qualified as a barrister in 1939. He had joined the Rangers (King's Royal Rifle Corps), a famous London Territorial Infantry Regiment, in 1934 and served in World War II in Greece, Crete, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and Austria, becoming a Brigadier in 1944. He was the youngest Brigadier in the British Army at that time. He worked in Europe following the German surrender and was amongst those responsible for the Betrayal of the Cossacks. He was appointed to the Distinguished Service Order in 1941, made a Commander of the Legion of Merit (USA) and awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Low stood for Parliament in the 1945 general election, and won the seat of Blackpool North. He served as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Supply 1951-54 and Minister of State at the Board of Trade from 1954, becoming a Privy Counsellor.

In 1957, he was knighted and became chair of the Select Committee on nationalised industry. In 1959, he became deputy Conservative Party chairman. In 1962 he was created Baron Aldington, of Bispham in the County Borough of Blackpool, and increased his business interests, serving as the chairman of several companies. He had been a director of the family banking company, Grindlays Bank, in 1946, following his father and grandfather. In 1964, Lord Aldington became Chairman of the bank as well as of GEC. In 1971, he joined the BBC general advisory council, and became chairman of Sun-Alliance and the Port of London Authority. In 1972, he became co-chairman, with Jack Jones, of the joint special committee on the ports industry. He became chairman of Westland in 1977.

Lord Aldington was considered a One Nation Conservative and supported British involvement in the European Union. He continued political activities in the House of Lords, including as chairman of the Lords' select committee on overseas trade. He was also a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent.

In 1999, when hereditary peers were excluded from the House of Lords by the House of Lords Act 1999, as a hereditary peer of first creation he was granted a life peerage as Baron Low, of Bispham in the County of Lancashire, so that he could remain.

Family[edit | edit source]

Aldington married Felicité Ann Araminta MacMichael (d.2012) (a daughter of Sir Harold MacMichael) on 10 April 1947. They had two daughters, Priscilla Jane Stephanie, Lady Roberts, Lucy Ann Anthea, and a son, Charles Low, 2nd Baron Aldington.

Libel case[edit | edit source]

In 1989 Lord Aldington initiated and won a record £1.5million (plus £500,000 costs) in a libel case against Count Nikolai Tolstoy and Nigel Watts, who had accused him of war crimes in Austria during his involvement in the Betrayal of the Cossacks at Lienz, part of Operation Keelhaul at the end of the Second World War. This award, which bankrupted Tolstoy, was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights in July 1995 as "not necessary in a democratic society".[2]

Tolstoy had written several books (Victims of Yalta in 1977, Stalin's Secret War in 1981, The Minister and the Massacres in 1986) about the alleged complicity of British politicians and officers with Joseph Stalin's forces in the murder of White Russian exiles from Soviet Rule, Cossacks, Croatian para-military and civilian fugitives from Tito, as well as 11,000 Slovenian anticommunist fighters.[3] Nigel Watts, who was in a business dispute with one of Lord Aldington's former companies, used this information to further his own cause, printing 10,000 leaflets about Aldington's role in the matter and circulating them to politicians and other figures.[4]

Count Tolstoy insisted on being sued alongside Watts and, despite two efforts by Aldington to avoid this, fought the issue hard with the support of some senior members of the Conservative Party, including the Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Cranborne, and international public figures ranging from Nigel Nicolson and Graham Greene to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Lord Aldington meanwhile had the assistance of the government, Sun-Alliance and the Conservative Party, so that the case became something of a 9-week civil war between Margaret Thatcher's Government and dissident elements within the Conservative Party.[citation needed] Nigel Watts was jailed for 18 months in April 1995, after repeating the libel that Aldington was a war criminal in a pamphlet.[5]

For seven years after Aldington won his initial judgement, Tolstoy appealed to 15 courts in Britain and Europe, before finally winning a judgement in the European Court of Human Rights in 1995 that the size of the award (£1.5 million), combined with Aldington's huge legal costs, and Tolstoy's consequent bankruptcy, violated Tolstoy's right to freedom of expression. Following the judgement libel awards fell dramatically, and since the passing of the Human Rights Act it forms part of English defamation law.

In 1996 the Court of Appeal upheld an order Aldington had obtained that made lawyers acting for Tolstoy pro bono parties to the case, and thereby jointly liable with Tolstoy for any costs or damages awarded to Aldington. This order was combined with a requirement that Tolstoy underwrite the cost of Aldington's defence in order to obtain leave to appeal.[6]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. He was known as Austin Richard William Low until he added 'Toby' as a forename by deed poll on 10 July 1957. "No. 41128". 16 July 1957. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/41128/page/ 
  2. cache site from books.google.com
  3. The Story of forced repatriation of Slovenes After World War II
  4. "Lord Aldington". The Guardian. London. 9 December 2000. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2000/dec/09/guardianobituaries.obituaries. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  5. "Lord Aldington". The Guardian. London. 9 December 2000. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2000/dec/09/guardianobituaries.obituaries. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  6. Aldington v Tolstoy

External links[edit | edit source]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Blackpool North
1945–1962
Succeeded by
Norman Miscampbell
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Aldington
1962–2000
Succeeded by
Charles Low

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