Nicholas Fairbairn

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Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

Solicitor General for Scotland
In office
6 May 1979 – 28 January 1982
Preceded byJohn McCluskey
Succeeded byPeter Fraser
Member of Parliament
for Perth and Kinross
Kinross and Western Perthshire (1974–1983)
In office
10 October 1974 – 19 February 1995
Preceded byAlec Douglas-Home
Succeeded byRoseanna Cunningham
Personal details
Born(1933-12-24)24 December 1933
Died19 February 1995(1995-02-19) (aged 61)
Political partyConservative
FatherRonald Fairbairn

Sir Nicholas Hardwick Fairbairn, QC (24 December 1933 – 19 February 1995) was a Scottish politician.

He was the Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Kinross and Western Perthshire from October 1974 to 1983, and then for Perth and Kinross until his death in 1995. He was Solicitor General for Scotland from 1979 to 1982.

Early life[edit]

Nicholas Fairbairn was born on 24 December 1933, the third child and second son of Mary Ann More-Gordon[1] and Ronald Fairbairn, the psychoanalyst. According to Fairbairn's autobiography A Life is Too Short (1987), his father adopted the maternal role after his mother rejected him at birth. Fairbairn describes their relationship from when he could converse with his father, for the next 20 years until old age affected his father, like that of twins with his father treating him as "his equal and confidant". Fairbairn credited this relationship as enabling him to "withstand the trauma and rejection I felt... enabled me to feel secure for the rest of my life against any rejection or misfortune... made me profoundly in awe of father figures and left me with a consistent feeling... that I am still a child." Fairbairn also said he was named after Saint Nicholas as he was born on Christmas Eve.

He was educated at Loretto School and the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with an MA and an LLB. At the age of 23, he was called to the Scots Bar.

In 1962 he married into the Scottish aristocracy—his wife, Hon. Elizabeth Mackay, was the daughter of the 13th Lord Reay. They divorced in 1979. He began in Conservative politics by standing in the Edinburgh Central seat (which had been a Labour-held marginal seat during the 1950s) in 1964 and 1966.

Political career[edit]

Fairbairn's career took off in the early 1970s. In 1972 he was appointed a Scottish Queen's Counsel (QC). After the former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home announced his retirement from Parliament between the 1974 elections, Fairbairn was selected to succeed him. He won the seat in October 1974 with a majority of just 53 votes over the Scottish National Party.

His right-wing views endeared him to Margaret Thatcher, and when she formed her Government after winning the 1979 general election she appointed him Solicitor-General for Scotland.[2] On one occasion he wrote that the functions of this office were "to form a second pair of hands and often a first brain for the Lord Advocate". When the Conservatives were elected Fairbairn was the only Scottish QC in the Scottish Parliamentary Conservative Party, and it is thought that as a senior advocate of some considerable achievement in the criminal courts, he fully expected to be appointed Lord Advocate. However, his colourful opinions and reputation are thought to have impelled the then Lord Justice General, Lord Emslie, to tell Thatcher that the Scottish judiciary and legal profession were deeply opposed to having such a man as the senior law officer in Scotland. That led Thatcher to offer Fairbairn the secondary post of Solicitor-General for Scotland, and give the post of Lord Advocate to the then Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, J P H Mackay QC, who was then not even a member of the Conservative Party.

Fairbairn was known at Parliament for his flamboyant Scottish baronial tartan dress. He always carried a silver miniature, working revolver on a chain attached to his belt. He was reputedly the only MP to use the House of Commons Parliamentary snuff box. He had a mistress, Pamela Milne, who attempted suicide at his London home in 1981.[3]

Just as it seemed he had managed to survive, a major controversy emerged in Glasgow. A prosecution was dropped in a case involving the gang rape and mutilation of a young woman after doctors determined she was too traumatized to serve as a credible witness.[4] One journalist telephoned the Solicitor-General to ask why, and Fairbairn told him. This was a major breach of protocol, and Fairbairn had to resign.[5] After a media campaign, a private prosecution was brought by the victim in 1982 under ancient Scottish law. It was known as the Carol X case. All three of the perpetrators were convicted, with one sentenced to 12 years in prison.[4]

In 1983, Fairbairn was elected an honorary Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and he became a Trustee of the Royal Museums of Scotland in 1987. He was also President of the Society for the Preservation of Duddingston Village (an eastern suburb of Edinburgh).

He called members of Throbbing Gristle "wreckers of civilisation" in 1976 in a row over public funding of the arts. He also criticised Scottish performers Simple Minds and Annie Lennox for taking part in the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert in Wembley Stadium, describing them as "left-wing scum". Fairbairn was quoted: "These so-called stars like Annie Lennox and Jim Kerr are just out to line their own pockets.... and what Annie Lennox and Jim Kerr said at Wembley came out of no love for Nelson Mandela. It came from a desire to make money."[6]

Fairbairn was knighted in 1988.


He fiercely opposed capital punishment, after having himself appeared in 17 capital cases. He explained, "As the defending counsel, I am put on trial because, if I make a mistake, ask the wrong question or appear in the wrong way, the man may go to the trap". He was proud of obtaining two royal pardons for wrongful convictions of murder.[citation needed]

In October 1994, along with Alan Clark and Edwina Currie, he immediately told Neil Hamilton to stand down when the cash for questions scandal broke. Hamilton refused to do so at first and resigned only when forced, five days after the scandal broke.[citation needed]

During debates in 1994 regarding equality of age of consent for same and mixed-gender couples in the House of Commons, Fairbairn was called to order after starting a description of anal sex.[7] He voted against equalising the age of consent in 1994[8] although earlier in his career had been a supporter of the Scottish Minorities Group.[9]

Outside Parliament, Fairbairn was a keen painter, and was occasionally spotted drawing cartoons of other MPs during Committee sessions. He was also a gifted landscape gardener, and renovated the crumbling Fordell Castle into a family home.[citation needed]

In 1976, Fairbairn registered complaint about Genesis P-Orridge and his COUM Transmissions Prostitution show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, demanding an explanation from Arts Minister Harold Lever , proclaiming P-Orridge and his partner as "wreckers of civilisation."

Final years[edit]

In 1983 he married Suzanne Mary Wheeler (1942-2002), known as Lady Sam Fairbairn, who was for 14 years the chatelaine of the 13th century Fordell Castle in Fife.[10] She was born in British India in 1942, the daughter of a professional soldier, and spent her formative years in Kenya. Whilst still married to her first husband she first encountered Fairbairn in Edinburgh. She nursed Fairbairn during his illness with cirrhosis of the liver. He died in Dunfermline in 1995, aged 61. Soon after Fairbairn's death she learned that he had an illegitimate son, conceived during the early days of their marriage. "It makes mourning easier", she claimed at the time. She subsequently sold Fordell Castle, talked of reverting to her maiden name, and burnt Fairbairn's wardrobe of clothes. Later she was in dispute with Fairbairn's three daughters from an earlier marriage, whom, on his deathbed, he had cut out of his will. Her response was to give the children, including the "love-child", £10,000 apiece and their pick of the castle's contents - and then disappear into hiding. In November 2007 Fordell Castle was sold for £3,850,000.[11]

Fairbairn had stated that he would stand down as an MP at the next general election (which was eventually held in 1997), but the years of heavy drinking had finally had taken their toll[12] and he died in office in 1995, aged 61. This triggered a by-election and his seat was gained by Roseanna Cunningham of the Scottish National Party.[13]

Posthumous allegations of child abuse and sexual assaults[edit]

Though he was never charged with any offence, allegations of child molestation against Fairbairn emerged after his death. He was also posthumously accused of sexual assault against an adult female.[14][15] It was also alleged that his name was included on a list of 'VIPs' who frequented a 'paedophile-friendly' guest house in London; however, these specific claims are widely regarded as a hoax.[16]


  1. ^ Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas (Hardwick). Who's who and Who was who. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u172368.
  2. ^ "No. 20497". The Edinburgh Gazette. 25 May 1979. p. 559.
  3. ^ Garavelli, Dani (14 August 2014). "Call for inquiry into Scots historical sex abuse". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  4. ^ a b McKay, Reg (19 October 2007). "Fire that raged for two decades". Daily Record. Glasgow. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  5. ^ "OBITUARIES : Sir Nicholas Fairbairn". The Independent. London. 20 February 1995.
  6. ^ "Mat Snow - 'Q' Magazine - June 1989". Archived from the original on 12 December 2013.
  7. ^ "Debate of the New clause 3 Amendment of law relating to sexual acts between men". Hansard. 21 February 1994. pp. Column 98. Retrieved 5 May 2010. (amending the Sexual Offences Act 1967 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980)
  8. ^ "Gay Age of Consent: The vote on legality at 18". The Independent. 23 February 1994. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  9. ^ Garavelli, Dani (17 August 2014). "Call for inquiry into Scots historical sex abuse". Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  10. ^ "Obituaries: Lady 'Sam' Fairbairn". Alt.Obituaries. Google Groups. 27 January 2002.
  11. ^ "Fordell Castle". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. November 2007.
  12. ^ "Killer we choose to ignore". The Herald. 21 February 1995.
  13. ^ "BBC Politics 97". Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  14. ^ "I was raped at the aged of 4 by Scots Tory MP". dailyrecord. 14 August 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  15. ^ Leadbetter, Russell (7 November 2017). "Journalist tells of Fairbairn sexual assault". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  16. ^ "Sir Nicholas Fairbairn in child abuse scandal link". 13 July 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2020.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Lord McCluskey
Solicitor General for Scotland
Succeeded by
Peter Fraser
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Member of Parliament for Kinross and Western Perthshire
Oct 19741983
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Perth and Kinross
Succeeded by
Roseanna Cunningham