“Do you know, I never heard the bang?” says Norman Scott. “I later saw the gun – it was an antique Mauser pistol. I heard it click and jam when that dreadful man pressed it against my head. I heard the wind roaring across the moor in the dark. But I never heard the bang. Something must have made me shut it out. Awful, awful… Perhaps best not to think about it…”

But Scott still is thinking about that October night in 1975, on which he claims that Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe paid to have him assassinated. Except the dog-phobic assassin ended up shooting his Great Dane, Rinka, instead and failed to take out his intended target. Now 82, Scott has written a moving memoir, An Accidental Icon , to ensure his account of one of the biggest scandals in British political history remains part of the public record. In the book, he describes feeling Rinka’s sticky blood on his hands. “She was bleeding from the temple… I bent over Rinka, my cries of despair ripped away by the wind. ‘What have you done?’ I screamed. ‘You can’t involve a dog. It’s bad enough already…’”

“A lot of people ask me: ‘Why do you keep bringing it up?’’” he sighs, over the phone from his ancient farmhouse in Devon. “Well, I don’t want to. But I have to, because it has never been finished. There are people who still haven’t been charged for what they did, by the wretched police. That seems crazy to me.”

For those fuzzy on the details, Thorpe – a clever, charismatic and twice-married politician – was on the rise in the early 1970s. But he’s believed to have become increasingly concerned that Scott’s claims they had a (then illegal) homosexual relationship in the early 1960s would destroy him. He was accused of hiring an ex-airline pilot (Andrew Newton) to kill Scott. In 1976, a love letter in which he addressed Scott as “Bunnies” was published and Thorpe resigned. Newton and Thorpe were finally tried in court in 1979. Thorpe was acquitted and Newton was sentenced to two years in jail for possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. After his release, Newton changed his story and told the London Evening News he had received a £5,000 down payment on a “contract to murder”. But the police never bothered Thorpe again and he lived a free man until his death in 2014.

In 1979, the court and the press dehumanised Scott. He says: “When I said that the first time Thorpe raped me it felt like being sawed in half, people in the press gallery roared with laughter. The judge didn’t stop them. And from then on I was ‘just a queer’ in the court’s eyes. A figure of ridicule.” But attitudes to homosexuality have come a very long way over the past 40 years. In 2018, the BBC’s miniseries A Very English Scandal replayed the trial for a much less deferential, less homophobic audience. In this version of events – written by Russell T Davies and starring Hugh Grant as Thorpe and Ben Wishaw as Scott – Thorpe was shown as a manipulative narcissist, a thrill-seeking bully who got away with attempted murder.

“Younger viewers couldn’t believe the homophobia,” says Scott.  “I’m so grateful to Russell for what he wrote. And to Ben.” Wishaw – who came out as gay in his late twenties – won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Scott. He dedicated it to the older man who, he said “took on the establishment with courage and defiance that I find completely inspiring. He is a true queer hero and icon.” But Scott admits that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his performance. “Ben was brilliant and I’m very fond of him but he wasn’t playing me, he was playing the [director] Stephen Frears’ idea of a gay man. A sort of fey, mincing person that isn’t me.”

Scott’s memoir, subtitled “How I dodged a bullet, spoke truth to power and lived to tell the tale,” is an attempt to reclaim that “me”. It’s a frank and funny – but frequently painful – narrative that explores how those who were assaulted as children find themselves repeatedly targeted by predators with a nose for vulnerability. Scott’s first abuser was his mother. He was aged around four, he says, when she began to behave “oddly” around him. He writes that the abuse always took place in the family bathroom.

“Mummy, wearing a dressing gown, would hold me in her lap, face down, so that i was looking at the floor, the pattern of the blue linoleum seared into my memory. She would pull me against herself, clutching me tightly, and start moaning, a harsh, alien sound. I would think, Is she angry? Is she in pain? I couldn’t breathe and, afraid, I wanted to get down but there was no escape. I would feel her pulling down my pants and her finger pushing roughly inside me. It hurt so much, but she wouldn’t stop.”

When I tell Scott how distressing I found this passage he becomes anxious. “I keep reading and rereading that passage and checking it’s not too horrid. But of course it IS horrid. But I don’t think it was her fault… she just… I don’t know. I think she was an incredibly sexual being and she went through such misery with that man [Scott’s stepfather]… Later, when I walked in on her having sex with a man I dropped my lovely tortoise and broke it’s shell. It died. I have so much guilt… I am so sorry…”

It’s hard to hear Scott apologising for his own abuse. When I tell him it’s incredibly important that he has written about it, he relaxes. “Thank you, thank you… And what you say about other predators somehow being able to smell what happened on me? That is so correct.” As an aspiring equestrian in his early teens, Scott was sexually assaulted by a man who loaned him a saddle. He then went to study dressage with Norman Vivian Vater, who had rebranded himself as Brecht Van de Vater and it was from this man’s clutches that Thorpe “rescued” him in the early 1960s. By that point, Scott had recently been released from a psychiatric hospital and saw the MP (who met Scott on a weekend visit to Vater) as his only protector.

“It was a different time,” says Scott. “In those days you respected your elders and those you were told were your betters. You were afraid of policemen. That man [Thorpe] was obviously going to assault me and I didn’t realise, I was so naive.”

Scott’s book is direct about the way Thorpe raped him, nicknamed him “Bunnies” because he looked like “a frightened rabbit”, took his National Insurance card and turned him into a paid “employee”. He’s very good on the messiness of abuse and frank about how impressed and flattered he was by the “charming” and “generous” Thorpe. “Power is seductive. Money is seductive,” he says. “We would dine at the Reform Club and I drank port with people like Lord Reith. For a young man like me, it was all very impressive.”

I’ve heard gay friends sympathise with Thorpe, empathically projecting shame onto his treatment of Scott. It’s true that the 1950s and 1960s must have been awful for a man whose sexuality was illegal. But Scott tells me: “Thorpe wasn’t ashamed of his sexuality. He used it the whole time, in secret. It took me a long time, after we first met, to realise that he was seeing other people. But when he started going down to the Waterman’s Arms he used to bring these horrid people back to the flat. One time I went for a walk around the block and he even tried to pick me up thinking I was a stranger!”

Did Scott never want to have it out with Thorpe, in the decades after the trial? “No,” he says. “He wouldn’t have seen me. A friend of mine was an estate agent and went round when his house was for sale. This friend said it was just like going back into the 1960s. The house was full of dust and cobwebs. There were a lot of young hippies sitting around in the sitting room, smoking dope. And Thorpe [who experienced a long decline with Parkinson’s] was just lying alone in a room upstairs, looking like he was dead. Awful, really. An unhappy ending, but then it was karma.” Scott audibly shrugs. “I’m sorry but it was.”

Today he says that writing the book left him feeling “cleaned”. “Parts of it were obviously painful to write. But it’s a relief to have it done.” He’s glad to have corrected the demeaning errors that have crept into his story. “The press vilified me at the time and they’ve gone on to describe me as a ‘stable boy’ when I met Thorpe. I wasn’t. I was a working dressage pupil! I had a successful career as a model. I had a successful career as an equestrian and I was doing that during the Thorpe period. I was qualifying horses for the Horse of the Year show and yet that never came up in the press, did it?”

Scott’s experiences have left him deeply suspicious of politicians. “I look at the government now and I’m appalled,” he says. “Boris Johnson? Revolting. And that ghastly Priti Patel? Dreadful. I liked Rishi Sunak, but he has become sly. They all ought to be put in a bag and thrown into the Thames. I will never vote Tory again and I did for some years.” He takes a breath to watch his tortoises, Rigby and Peller, wander across the floor. “From what I’ve seen, as soon as you enter the portals of parliament you become corrupt. They say they can’t live on £82,000? How can they not live on that? Look at what Johnson spent on doing up Number 10. That silly woman has decorated it like a sixteen-year-old’s first flat.”

He is deliciously gossipy about all the celebrities he’s met over the years. And when he wraps up a series of anecdotes about the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull and Jennifer Saunders he agrees that he’s had “something of a Forrest Gump life”. But he wants to stress that, “while to many people I’m frozen in time”, he has had a long and happy life since the Thorpe trial. He has been in a “wonderful” relationship with a local artist, Michael, for the past 26 years and still enjoys taking care of his dogs, horses and poultry.

“I’m very lucky that I survived my life,” he says. “But I just had to keep telling the truth and not go under. I’ve been helped by so many wonderful people and animals.  I do think that somebody has been watching over me. Look at me now. I’m in Devon, twinned with Narnia. I can still see the beauty in everything. Nobody took that from me.”

Helen Brown is an arts journalist writing regularly for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Financial Times and The Daily Mail

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