BRITAIN’S then prime minister Clement Attlee, the chiefs of MI6 security service and Buckingham Palace aides all conspired to cover up one of the last scandals of the British Empire involving the theft of charity funds by one of its Governors posted in India, papers in the UK’s National Archives have revealed.
Sir Arthur Hope, who served as the Governor of Madras Presidency between 1940 and 1946, had been entrusted with donations to the Indian Red Cross.
But in 1944, the British establishment became aware of his mounting gambling debts which led him to also misappropriate the funds intended for the charity, The Times reported.
Hope reportedly had a passion for race-horses and tended to lose a lot of money on them, which led him to divert charitable funds to deal with mounting debt liabilities. The money he was thought to have siphoned off to settle his debts added up to 40,000 pound at the time.
According to the correspondence documents unearthed in the archives, when word reached Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India at the time, that some of Hope’s creditors in India wanted their money back, the British decided that the governor must be quietly removed from office.
“Hope’s health, which has been indifferent for some time, affords reasonable cover,” the Viceroy suggested.
A doctor’s note was produced claiming that Sir Arthur, who was then 48, had “tropical neurasthenia”, a diagnosis commonly given to white Europeans who disliked the colonial climate and wanted to go home.
King George VI was also briefed of his plan because the monarch’s approval was required for a change in governor.
However, it was feared if he stepped down while he was still in India, he could be sued and arrested over of his debts before he could board a ship for England.
“I feel it would be wise to get him out of the country before he actually resigns,” Sir Patrick Spens, Lord Chief Justice of India, advised the Viceroy in a letter.
Hope eventually sailed back to England and the cover up proved successful as years later his obituary in The Times read: “He was compelled by ill-health to resign before his extended term of office was complete.”
The UK government of the day was unable to sue him without exposing “the delinquencies of the King’s representative”, noted Sir David Monteath, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for India and Burma.
In 1947, the year India gained its independence, then British prime minister Attlee approved a donation to the Indian Red Cross using British taxpayers’ money in such a way that people would be unaware it came from the government in London.
It was agreed that paying 3,750 pound that had been missed by the charity would prevent Indians becoming suspicious about the rest of the money Hope had misappropriated.
MI6 was also reportedly kept informed of this arrangement, which will go down in history as one of the last major scandals of the British Raj.