Paul Foot

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Person.png Paul Foot  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(investigative journalist, activist, author)
Paul Foot.jpg
Born8 November 1937
Died18 July 2004 (Age 66)
Alma materUniversity College (Oxford)
Interests • 1994 Israeli Embassy Bombing in London
• Lockerbie bombing
• Colin Wallace

Paul Mackintosh Foot was a British investigative journalist, political campaigner, author, and long-time member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). He was the grandson of Isaac Foot, who had been a Liberal MP, and the son of Hugh Foot (who was the last Governor of Cyprus and Jamaica and, as Lord Caradon, the British Ambassador to the United Nations from 1964 to 1970). He was the nephew of Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Party.

Paul Foot's friend and fellow journalist, Nick Cohen, wrote the following tribute to Foot the week after his death:

From the early 1960s he was the journalist who would give the victims of injustice a hearing when no one else would listen. MPs, councillors, shop stewards, lawyers, ombudsmen, watchdogs and reporters may have decided that you were mad. Or dismissed you as an obsessive. Or - and this is the most common reason justified grievances aren't taken up - decided it would be too much time and trouble to champion your cause.
Foot was a shining exception, the best hope for thousands who had nowhere else to turn, their court of last appeal. Pick any of the columns he wrote for the Daily Mirror and Private Eye and you will find a pulsating suspicion of authority and sympathy with authority's victims.
Occasionally he would sigh when yet another prisoner wrote to him protesting his innocence, or burst out laughing when he discovered that the sacked civil servant he was defending admired Margaret Thatcher more than any other politician. But then he would pull himself together and get on with it.[1]


Foot was born in Haifa, Palestine, during the British mandate. He spent his youth at his uncle's house in Devon, in Italy with his grandmother and with his parents (who lived abroad) in Cyprus and Jamaica. He was sent to what he described as "a ludicrously snobbish prep school, Ludgrove School near Wokingham in Berkshire, and then to an only slightly less absurd public school, Shrewsbury, in Shropshire." [2] Contemporaries at Shrewsbury included Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Booker and several other friends who would later become involved in Private Eye.

Anthony Chenevix-Trench, subsequently the Headmaster of Eton College, was Foot's Housemaster at Shrewsbury between 1950 and 1955, a time when corporal punishment in all schools was commonplace. In adult life, Foot exposed the ritual beatings that Chevenix-Trench had given. As Nick Cohen wrote in Foot's obituary in The Observer:[3]

"Even by the standards of England's public schools, Anthony Chenevix-Trench, his housemaster at Shrewsbury, was a flagellomaniac. Foot recalled, 'He would offer his culprit an alternative: four strokes with the cane, which hurt; or six with the strap, with trousers down, which didn't. Sensible boys always chose the strap, despite the humiliation, and Trench, quite unable to control his glee, led the way to an upstairs room, which he locked, before hauling down the miscreant's trousers, lying him face down on a couch and lashing out with a belt."

Exposing him in Private Eye was one of Foot's happiest days in journalism. He received hundreds of congratulatory letters from the child abuser's old pupils, many of whom were then prominent in British life.

After his National Service in Jamaica, Foot was reunited with Ingrams at University College at the University of Oxford, where he read Law, and wrote for Isis magazine, one of the student publications at the University.

Early career

In 1961, Foot went to Glasgow to join the Daily Record where he met workers from shipyards and engineering who had joined the Labour Party Young Socialists. He read, for the first time, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, and the biography of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher which had just been published. In Glasgow he met the Socialist Review group, led by "an ebullient Palestinian Jew" called Tony Cliff. Cliff argued that Russia was state capitalist and that Russian workers were cut off from economic and political power as much as, if not more than, those in the West. Persuaded by what he heard and saw in Glasgow, Foot joined the International Socialists, the organisational forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in 1963. "Of all the many lessons I learnt in those three years in Glasgow," he wrote later, "the one which most affected my life was a passing remark by Rosa Luxemburg. She predicted that, however strong people's socialist commitment, as soon as they are involved even to the slightest degree in managing the system on behalf of capitalists, they will be lost to the socialist cause." He wrote for Socialist Worker throughout his career and was its editor from 1972 until 1978. He continued to write a regular column for the Socialist Worker until he died. He spoke at thousands of meetings for hundreds of left-wing and socialist causes, frequently trying to persuade audiences of the relevance of revolutionary socialism.

Newspapers and magazines

Paul Foot's letter of 9 December 1988 to 'Thatcher critic' Patrick Haseldine

In 1964, he went to work on the new The Sun and into a department called Probe. The idea was to investigate and publish stories behind the news. However, the whole Probe team resigned after six months. "The man in charge turned out to be a former Daily Express City editor." Foot left to work, part-time, on the Mandrake column on The Sunday Telegraph. He had previously contributed articles to Private Eye since 1964 but decided, in February 1967, to take a cut in salary and join the staff of the magazine on a full-time basis, working with its editor, Richard Ingrams and its new sole owner Peter Cook. When asked about the decision later, Foot would say he could not resist the prospect of two whole pages with complete freedom to write whatever he liked. "Writing for Private Eye is the only journalism I have ever been engaged in which is pure enjoyment. It is free publishing of the most exhilarating kind." [4] Foot got on very well with Cook, only realising after the latter's death in 1995 how much they had in common: "We both were born in the same week, into the same sort of family. His father, like mine, was a colonial servant rushing round the world hauling down the imperial flag. Both fathers shipped their eldest sons back to public school education in England. We both spent our school holidays with popular aunts and uncles in the West Country. Foot's first stint at Private Eye lasted 5 years until 1972, when he became editor of the Socialist Worker.

Six years later he returned to Private Eye but was poached in 1979 by the editor of the Daily Mirror, Mike Molloy, who offered him a weekly investigative page of his own with only one condition attached: that he was not to make propaganda for the SWP. Foot stayed at the Daily Mirror for fourteen years, during which time Private Eye occasionally made fun of him, calling him 'Pol Fot' (a pun on the Khmer Rouge Cambodian dictator Pol Pot). Foot finally fell out with the new Mirror editor, David Banks, after the death of Robert Maxwell, and a boardroom coup that introduced a programme of "union-bashings and sackings".

Paul Foot left the Daily Mirror in 1993 when the paper refused to print articles critical of their new management (in response to which, Foot distributed copies of the articles to passers-by outside Mirror headquarters). He then rejoined Private Eye for a third time, with its new editor, Ian Hislop. From 1993, he also contributed a regular column to The Guardian.


He unsuccessfully fought the Birmingham Stechford by-election in 1977 for the SWP and was a Socialist Alliance candidate for several offices from 2001 onwards. In the London Borough of Hackney mayoral election in 2002 he came third, beating the Liberal Democrat candidate. He also stood unsuccessfully in the London region for the Respect coalition in the European Parliament Election, 2004.

“Only the working masses can change society; but they will not do that spontaneously, on their own. They can rock capitalism back onto its heels but they will only knock it out if they have the organisation, the socialist party, which can show the way to a new, socialist order of society. Such a party does not just emerge. It can only be built out of the day-to-day struggles of working people.”
Paul Foot (1977)  [5]


Foot was an expert on the poet Shelley, and wrote a pioneering book (Red Shelley) which exalted the radical politics of Shelley's poetry. He was a bibliophile, following in the steps of his grandfather Isaac and uncle Michael. He also wrote books about the radical union leader A J Cook and a detailed study of parliamentary democracy in Britain, published posthumously, entitled The Vote. Foot's speeches often took on subjects linked to history and literature - Shelley, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Louise Michel. Many of his speeches are available on CD and on the Internet.

Awards and campaign journalism

Paul Foot was named journalist of the year in the What The Papers Say Awards in 1972 and 1989 and campaigning journalist of the year in the 1980 British Press Awards; he won the George Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1995 with Tim Laxton, won the journalist of the decade prize in the What The Papers Say Awards in 2000, and the James Cameron special posthumous Award in 2004.

His best known work was in the form of campaign journalism, including his exposure of corrupt architect John Poulson— and, most notably, his prominent role in the campaigns to overturn the convictions of the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Four, which succeeded in 1991 and 1997 respectively. Foot also asserted that a former British intelligence officer, Colin Wallace, had been framed for manslaughter with a view to suppressing Wallace's allegations of collusion between British forces and Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.[6]

He also worked tirelessly, though without success, to gain a posthumous pardon for James Hanratty, who was hanged in 1962 for the A6 murder. It was a position he maintained even after DNA evidence in 1999 confirmed Hanratty's guilt.

Lockerbie bombing

Full article: Lockerbie bombing

Paul Foot took a particular interest in the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, firmly believing Megrahi to have been a victim of a miscarriage of justice at the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial.

Foot wrote a number of articles before the trial, notably:

"Lockerbie conspiracies: from A to Z"

This Guardian article of 7 April 1999 by Patrick Barkham was based on a 1995 Guardian investigation by Paul Foot and John Ashton and began:

A is for Africa, South
Several pieces of evidence (see H and W) suggest that the authorities knew in advance that the Boeing 747 which blew up over Lockerbie in southern Scotland on December 21, 1988 was in danger. The German newspaper Die Zeit claimed that the South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, intended to fly on Pan Am Flight 103 but had been warned off. Mr Botha flew on an earlier flight, Pan Am 101, which, unlike flight 103, had special security checks at Heathrow. No one has been able to definitively confirm or refute the Die Zeit story.[7]

"Lockerbie: Pik 'n' Miss"

This was the title of an article by Paul Foot in Private Eye magazine of 2 April 1999 which highlighted "the most enduring mystery about Lockerbie"[8]:

"Looming over the prospect of the trial of two Libyan suspects for the Lockerbie bombing are two dreadful questions which haunt the intelligence communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
"1. Why has Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, shown such a lasting and dedicated interest in Lockerbie? True, he was for some of the time head of the Organisation of African Unity. True, he feels he owes the Libyans a debt for their long opposition to apartheid. But on their own these explanations can't explain the enormous amount of time and travelling Mandela has devoted to talks with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
"2. Why has Gaddafi conceded, and released [for trial] the suspects in what seems like a climbdown? True, he was irritated by UN sanctions; but these hardly explain his uncharacteristic bowing the knee to the hated Americans.
"Could the answer to both questions have anything to do with the most enduring mystery about Lockerbie: the warnings received before the bombing of a likely attack on a US airliner in revenge for the shooting down by the US Navy of an Iranian airliner in the Gulf, with the loss of many lives, a few months before Lockerbie?
"The most persistent of all the 'warning' stories comes from South Africa. On 21 December 1988, the day of the bombing, the South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha was in London with a large entourage. The rumour was that they had planned to go to the US on Pan Am Flight 103. But at the last moment had switched to a later flight. Had they been warned off?
"Could it be that President Mandela has more information about this last-minute switch and that he has passed on the information to Colonel Gaddafi?"[9]

"Lockerbie: The Flight from Justice"

This 32-page special report from Private Eye was published by Paul Foot in 2001 shortly after the verdict was announced at the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands when Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted. In a commentary on Foot's report, Private Eye itself asked:

So was Libya even involved in the Lockerbie bombing?[10]
The answer is that nobody knows. Libya certainly had a grim record in state-sponsored "terrorism", but there was scant evidence to link it directly to Lockerbie at the Zeist trial. The links to Libya came from the suggestion that a fragment of a timing device which survived the blast was an MST-13 timer produced by a Swiss company, Mebo, which had supplied some to Libya. But it had also supplied them to East Germany; and in any event Libya could have sold them on. Libya could well have had links with the PFLP and PPF cells; but again there was no evidence of such a link.
Foot described how initially they were pursued - for a solid 18 months - right up to the point of announcing that arrests were imminent. Then suddenly the political mood in the Middle East changed dramatically. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the US/UN forces needed Arab support beyond their usual friends in Egypt. The Syrians were themselves worried about Hussein’s expansion in the area, and in November 1990 deals were signed to both neutralize Iran and to bring Syrian forces into the combined operation known as Desert Storm to reclaim Kuwait.
As Paul Foot described it, Lockerbie was to be played down and President Bush Snr declared: "Syria took a bum rap on this."
No wonder no one now wants a public inquiry and the question remains: who was really behind the biggest ever terrorist atrocity on British soil?[11]

"Lockerbie's dirty secret"

In an article published in The Guardian a few months before he died, Paul Foot wrote:[12]

"As he basks in the success of his controversial visit to Libya, prime minister Tony Blair has to grapple at once with an awkward letter. It was delivered on Monday by UK Families Flight 103 representing most of the British families bereaved by the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The letter starts by reminding Blair that the families supported his visit to Libya in the expectation that the talks with Colonel Gaddafi would lead to more information about the bombing. Moreover, the letter says, their support for the visit was widely used by ministers to justify the visit to Libya. Yet the visit has not led to any more information about the bombing.
"And recent letters to the secretary of the group, Pamela Dix - whose brother died at Lockerbie - from Baroness Symons, minister of state at the Foreign Office, and from the Crown Office in Edinburgh, have argued that any further questions to the Libyans about Lockerbie would not be helpful. In short, ministers took the credit of the families' support without asking a single question about Lockerbie to justify that support. In a sense of deep outrage, the families are asking the prime minister for a meeting to discuss Lockerbie as a matter of urgency.

The article concludes:

"In Britain, meanwhile, Thatcher, John Major and Blair obstinately turned down the bereaved families' requests for a full public inquiry into the worst mass murder in British history.
"It follows from this explanation that Megrahi is innocent of the Lockerbie bombing and his conviction is the last in the long line of British judges' miscarriages of criminal justice. This explanation is also a terrible indictment of the cynicism, hypocrisy and deceit of the British and US governments and their intelligence services. Which is probably why it has been so consistently and haughtily ignored."

Death and memorials

Paul Foot, a resident of Stoke Newington,[13] died of a pulmonary aneurysm while waiting at Stansted Airport to begin a family holiday in Ireland. He was 66 years old.

A tribute issue of the Socialist Review, on whose editorial board Foot sat for 19 years, collected together many of his articles, while issue 1116 of Private Eye included a tribute to Foot from the many people with whom he had worked. Three months after his death, on 10 October 2004, there was a full house at the Hackney Empire in London for an evening's celebration of his life. The following year, The Guardian and Private Eye jointly set up the Paul Foot Award for investigative or campaigning journalism, with an annual £10,000 prize fund.[14]

Foot is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London, a few yards from Karl Marx's tomb.

Private life

Paul Foot was married twice, to Monica Foot and Rose Foot and had a long term relationship with Clare Fermont. He had three sons and a daughter from these three relationships. His eldest son John Foot is an academic and writer specialising in Italy, Matt Foot is a solicitor, Tom Foot is a journalist while Kate Foot is at school (2011).

He was a great fan of West Indian cricket (he used to say that George Headley, no less, had taught him to bat) and a faithful follower of Plymouth Argyle FC. He was also a classy opening batsman and a passionate golfer.


Documents by Paul Foot

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)Description
Document:Armed and Dangerousarticle1 March 1996Arms-to-IraqArguments about whether ministers should resign are not the main point of the Scott Report, says Paul Foot. The real dynamite is in the connection between government and the arms industry - and the level of deception involved
Document:Whitehall Farcebook review12 October 1989CIA
James Rusbridger
Official Secrets Act 1911
William Mountbatten-Windsor
Chevaline (missile)
James Rusbridger: "Secrecy turns otherwise rational people into fascistic nutters; secrecy allows untold billions of pounds and endless energies to be wasted in unnecessary intelligence; secrecy pollutes the political process, muzzles what is left of the independent press and makes a mockery of Parliament and elections."
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  1. The epistles of Saint Paul Nick Cohen pays homage to his friend Paul Foot, tireless champion of the underdog and a rebel who always had a cause
  2. Introduction Words as Weapons ISBN 0-86091-527-1
  3. "The epistles of Saint Paul"
  4. Words as Weapons Paul Foot, Introduction page xii
  5. Why You Should Be a Socialist
  6. See Who Framed Colin Wallace by Paul Foot, Pan 1990, ISBN 0-330-31446-7, and, also by Paul Foot, The final vindication, The Guardian, 2 October 2002, and "Inside story: MI5 mischief", The Guardian, 22 July 1996
  7. "Lockerbie conspiracies: from A to Z"
  8. "Tell Me No Lies" (pages 238/9) Edited by John Pilger, Published by Random House/Vintage, 2005
  9. "Lockerbie: Pik 'n' Miss"
  10. "The Lockerbie Files - The Libya Link"
  11. "Lockerbie - "The Flight from Justice"
  12. Paul Foot "Lockerbie's dirty secret", The Guardian, 31 March 2004
  13. "Paul Foot campaigning journalist and one of Stoke Newington’s best-known residents, died on 18 July, aged 66"
  14. "Paul Foot Award"


  • Immigration and Race in British Politics, (1965), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • The Politics of Harold Wilson, (1968), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
  • The Rise of Enoch Powell: An Examination of Enoch Powell’s Attitude to Immigration and Race, (1969), London: Cornmarket Press, ISBN 0-7191-9017-7.
  • Who Killed Hanratty?, (1971), London: Cape, ISBN 0-224-00546-4.
  • The Postal Workers and the Tory offensive, (1971?), London: International Socialists.
  • Workers Against Racism, (1973?), England: International Socialists.
  • Stop the Cuts, (1976), London: Rank and File Organising Committee.
  • Why You Should Be a Socialist: The Case For the New Socialist Workers Party, (1977), London: Socialist Workers Party, ISBN 0-905998-01-4.
  • Red Shelley, (1980), London: Sidgwick and Jackson, ISBN 0-283-98679-4.
  • This Bright Day of Summer: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, (1981), London:Socialists Unlimited, ISBN 0-905998-22-7.
  • Three Letters to a Bennite, (1982), London: Socialist Workers Party, ISBN 0-905998-29-4.
  • The Helen Smith Story, (1983), Glasgow: Fontana, ISBN 0-00-636536-1, (with Ron Smith).
  • 'An Agitator of the Worst Type': A Portrait of Miners' Leader A.J. Cook, (1986), London: Socialist Workers Party, ISBN 0-905998-51-0.
  • Murder at the Farm: Who Killed Carl Bridgewater? (1986), London: Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN 0-283-99165-8.
  • Ireland: Why Britain Must Get Out, (1989), London: Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-3548-4.
  • Who Framed Colin Wallace?, (1989), London:Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-47008-7.
  • The Case for Socialism: What the Socialist Workers Party Stands For, (1990), London: Bookmarks, ISBN 0-905998-74-X.
  • Words as Weapons: Selected Writing 1980-1990, (1990), London: Verso, ISBN 0-86091-310-4/0860915271.
  • Articles of Resistance, (2000), London: Bookmarks, ISBN 1-898876-64-9.
  • Lockerbie: The Flight from Justice, (2001), London: Private Eye Special Issue.
  • The Vote: How It Was Won and How It Was Undermined, (2005), London: Viking, ISBN 0-670-91536-X.

Further reading

External links



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