Poulson Affair

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The Poulson Affair was a British corruption scandal of the 1970s. John Garlick Llewelyn Poulson (1910-1993) was an architect based in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, who built a small architectural practice into a large integrated company employing architects, planners, lawyers, project managers and other professionals, that specialised in shopping centres and major town-centre redevelopments. Despite this, his company fell into financial difficulty, and at the bankruptcy hearings in 1972 it became clear that the company had been paying bribes to win lucrative contracts. The Metropolitan Police began an investigation; charges of corruption were brought and Poulson and a number of other men were brought to trial.

In 1974 Poulson was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Others found guilty and gaoled included T. Dan Smith (1915-1993), the regional politician and former leader of Newcastle upon Tyne city council, Andrew Cunningham, leader of Durham County Council, and George Pottinger, a senior civil servant at the Scottish Office (the government department dealing with Scottish affairs). Reginald Maudling (1917-1979), the Conservative Home Secretary, resigned at the outset of the police investigation in 1972 as he had links with Poulson and was minister responsible for policing and justice. He was officially cleared of wrongdoing, but had certainly been a strong advocate for Poulson (gaining him contracts in Malta), and had received 'gifts' from the architect.

Although the affair was the biggest corruption scandal in British public life in the twentieth century, its fallout was limited partly because Poulson spread his favours across the various parties, and so it was not in the interest of any particular party to expose corruption in the ranks of its opponents.

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