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The man the scientologists couldn’t smear

Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty

When Lord Balniel, who died last week aged 96, called for a Commons inquiry into whether Scientology was “exploiting the fears and anxieties of the mentally unstable” in 1966, says The Times, the church’s response was swift. Notoriously litigious founder L Ron Hubbard unleashed his private detectives to dig up dirt on the Tory MP – and with some confidence. “Every time we have investigated the background of a critic of Scientology,” bragged the wacky cultist, “we have found crimes for which that person or group could be imprisoned under existing law.” Not so in the case of Balniel. Save for one minor incident in 1963, when he was fined £3 for “inadvertently driving a car without a licence”, he turned out to have led a life of “unimpeachable integrity and public service”.

He was, reputedly, the first Carlton Club member to take a black person as his guest. Serving with the Grenadier Guards in the 1940s, he once saved an olive grove from being burnt down in a violent clash between Israeli settlers and Palestinian Arabs. (He was duly “rewarded with a plate of sheep’s eyes”.) The Shah of Iran once sent a large pot of “golden beluga caviar” to Balniel’s Hampstead home. “To his family’s dismay he gave it to his staff.”