LORD McAlpine – the Conservative Party fundraiser who was wrongly accused of child abuse in a BBC report – has died at his home in Italy aged 71.
Colleagues described him as a “towering figure” who made “a huge contribution to public life”.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that McAlpine was a “dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party”.
Leading the tributes, Cameron said on Twitter: “My thoughts are with Lord McAlpine’s family – he was a dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party.”
In a statement, his family said: “It is with great sadness that the family of Lord McAlpine announce his peaceful death last night at his home in Italy.”
The former Conservative Party deputy chairman and member of the Scottish engineering dynasty was recently wrongly implicated in a child abuse scandal.
He received damages from a string of internet users – including Sally Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow, and comedian Alan Davies – as a result of libellous messages on Twitter.
Bercow agreed to pay McAlpine £15,000 in damages for her infamous “innocent face” tweet, which was posted at the height of the allegations into child sex allegations and the Tory peer.
Actor Davies also paid damages after he re-tweeted a Twitter post that linked McAlpine’s name to the BBC report about a “senior political figure who is a paedophile”.
The BBC was forced to apologise and issued a statement after abuse victim Steve Messham admitted that the man who abused him in a North Wales children’s home in the 1970s and 1980s was not the peer.
Solicitors for McAlpine indicated that they were preparing to sue for defamation, saying their client’s reputation had been left in “tatters” as a result of the BBC programme.
An investigation into the programme by the BBC Trust later said that members of the team failed to follow the corporation’s own editorial guidelines.
The allegations forced the corporation’s then-director general, George Entwistle, to quit the role in November 2012 less than two months into taking it, saying that, as editor-in chief, he had to take “ultimate responsibility” for a Newsnight investigation that had led to McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse.
The Tory former minister Lord Tebbit said the late peer was a “confidante” to Baroness Thatcher, and that he was “deeply upset” by the recent allegations about his private life.
Tebbit said: “He had always got something interesting to say. A very cultured man, very interested in the arts, also much-travelled.
“He seemed to find a quite natural home in Italy in recent years.”
Of the wrongful allegations, Tebbit said: “I think he was pretty upset about it, deeply upset, that anybody would
for a moment believe that of him.
“It centred around a faintly ridiculous idea that Alistair had some role in organising a gay sex scandal – well it would have been if it had existed – at No 10 Downing Street.
“You only have to ask yourself about what Denis Thatcher would have said about such a proposal to realise it was totally absurd.”
Conservative former chairman and cabinet minister Lord Parkinson, who worked closely with Lord McAlpine during the Thatcher era, said: “Alistair McAlpine was an outstanding treasurer of the modern Conservative Party – if not the outstanding treasurer.
“He served as treasurer when deputy chairman during the whole of the Thatcher years and was an extremely successful fund-raiser.
“He was also a very close adviser to Mrs Thatcher and had her total trust.
“In addition to all these things, he was a most unusual, intriguing, interesting character with a fantastic range of interests.”
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said: “He was a man of integrity, who had a successful career in both politics and business.
“He was a towering figure during the Thatcher era who did much for the Conservative Party and our country.
“My thoughts are with his friends and family.”