Nicholas 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.

He was noted for his outspoken views and his flamboyant dress sense.

Early life

Nicholas Fairbairn was the third child and second son of Ronald Fairbairn, the psychoanalyst, who, according to Fairbairn's autobiography A Life is Too Short (1987) 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 twenty 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 aristocracyhis wife, Hon. Elizabeth Mackay, was the daughter of the 13th Lord Reay. They divorced in 1979. He started in Conservative politics by fighting the Edinburgh Central seat (which had been a Labour-held marginal seat during the 1950s) in 1964 and 1966.

Political career

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 then-surging Scottish National Party.

His right-wing views endeared him to Margaret Thatcher, and when she formed her Government after winning the 1979 election she appointed him Solicitor-General for Scotland.[1] 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 well known at Parliament for his flamboyant Scottish baronial tartan dress. He always carried a miniature (but fully working) silver revolver on a chain attached to his belt and was reputedly the only MP to use the House of Commons snuff box. He had a mistress, Pamela Milne, who attempted suicide at his London home in 1981.

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 prostitute after doctors determined she was too traumatized to serve as a credible witness.[2] 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.[3] 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.[2]

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 Wembley Stadium Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert, 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."[4] Fairbairn was knighted in 1988.

Fairbairn became a marginal political figure with the departure of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. He described her successor John Major as a "ventriloquist's dummy" and, when asked whether he stood by the comment, said that greyness was a creeping disease in politics.

In the 1992 election campaign Fairbairn caused a controversy when he claimed, "Under a Labour government this country would be swamped with immigrants of every colour and race on any excuse of asylum or bogus marriage or just plain deception". He further claimed that such people would be permitted to vote for the Labour-proposed Scottish Parliament, whereas people born in Scotland who happened to live in England would not. Former Deputy Prime Minister Viscount Whitelaw cancelled an engagement to speak in support of Fairbairn's candidacy in the marginal seat.


Fairbairn, however, had some views that might be classed as progressive. He was fiercely and personally opposed to 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.

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.

During debates in 1994 regarding the age of consent in the House of Commons, Fairbairn was called to order by the Speaker after starting a description of the mechanics of sodomy.[5]

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 remodelled the crumbling Fordell Castle into a family home.

Final years

In 1983 he married Lady Sam Fairbairn[6] (1942-2002), for 14 years the chatelaine of the fairy-tale 13th century Fordell Castle in Fife. She was born in Pakistan in 1942 as Suzanne Mary Wheeler, the daughter of a professional soldier, and spent her formative years in Kenya. Whilst still married to her first husband she first encountered Nicholas Fairbairn in Edinburgh. He was known for his outrageous behavior, constant infidelities, and routinely calling other MPs 'twerps' or 'hags' and describing women who brought rape cases as "tauntresses". Through it all, she stood by him and nursed her husband devotedly before he died from cirrhosis of the liver. Scarcely was the funeral over, however, than she learnt that he had a secret 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 Sir Nicholas's wardrobe of clothes. She also later found herself in dispute with Sir Nicholas'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.[7]

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[8] had finally had taken their toll and he died in office in 1995, aged 61. This triggered a by-election and his seat was won by Roseanna Cunningham of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

In August 2014 it was suggested Fairbairn may have abused boys at Elm Guest House, where youngsters from children's homes were allegedly sexually assaulted by high-profile visitors.[9]


  1. The Edinburgh Gazette: no. 20497. p. 559. 25 May 1979. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  2. 1 2 McKay, Reg (19 October 2007). "Fire that raged for two decades". Daily Record. Glasgow. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  3. "OBITUARIES : Sir Nicholas Fairbairn". The Independent. London. 20 February 1995.
  4. "Mat Snow - 'Q' Magazine - June 1989".
  5. "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)
  6. "Obituaries : Lady 'Sam' Fairbairn". Alt.Obituaries. Google Groups. 27 January 2002.
  7. "Properties : Fordell Castle, Near Dunfermline, Fife". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. November 2007.
  8. "flamboyant, hard-drinking Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn"
  9. "Sir Nicholas Fairbairn in child abuse scandal link". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 13 July 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2014.

External links

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
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