As Patrick Bishop notes early on in this highly readable book, those of us of a certain age can remember where we were when Airey Neave was murdered by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). It was the last Friday in March 1979. The Callaghan government had just lost, by one, a vote of confidence that would trigger the general election of May that year which brought Margaret Thatcher to power, and the parliamentary loose ends were being tied up. Neave had been shadow Northern Ireland secretary for four years. The job was his reward for masterminding Thatcher’s successful campaign for the Conservative Party leadership against Edward Heath. She told him he could have any post he wished. Instead of opting to shadow one of the great offices of state or taking the defence portfolio (for which he was very well equipped), Neave chose the most difficult, and dangerous, post he could.
Before Neave was murdered, he was best known to the wider public for having escaped from Colditz. He was the first British officer to make a ‘home run’. Together with a fellow prisoner, he managed to evade recapture on the long trek in the snow to the Swiss border, and then returned to Britain via France and Spain. Bishop is in no doubt that the escape was the key point in Neave’s life and influenced everything that came later. The sheer achievement of getting out of Colditz and making it home validated him as a man.
After Eton and Oxford, Neave began training to be a lawyer, at the same time joining the Territorials. He was called up at the start of the war and was wounded at the siege of Calais in May 1940. He had hardly had a chance to fire a shot in anger