Dennistoun v Dennistoun
Kings Bench Division,
High Court, 1925
Dorothy Dennistoun brought a Civil Court action against her former husband,
Ian Dennistoun, a retired Army officer, to recover £1300 she advanced him for bills and loans during their marriage. She also
claimed damages for breach of a verbal contract for maintenance.
The Dennistouns married in 1910 but divorced in 1921. Dorothy was persuaded
not to seek maintenance. Ian said he’d make provision, if he could, at
a later date. In 1920, Dorothy met Almina, Lady Carnarvon through General
John Cowans, quartermaster of the British Army during WW1 and a close friend of the Dennistouns. Later, Ian met Almina, whose husband discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb and famously died from a mosquito-bite
in April 1923. Almina and Ian fell in love.
Almina deposited large amounts of money into Ian’s bank account
during 1922-3. Ian repaid Dorothy £500.
She reminded him what amount was owed. Later, he left an envelope addressed
with her pet name “Brown Mouse” containing £100. By September 1923,
Dorothy wanted full repayment. Ian refused to discuss matters except through
his solicitors. Meanwhile, Almina installed him in a flashy London apartment, and then in December 1923 they married.
During 1924 no progress was made to settle with Dorothy. On 3 March 1925
The Dustbin Case (said Punch) came before Mr. Justice McCardie. Sir Ellis Hume-Williams
KC representing Dorothy, Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC for Ian. It lasted 17 sordid days, rocking the Establishment, destroying
Dorothy was named mistress of General John Cowans. She claimed she’d only been intimate with him to secure
advancement for Ian in the Army. Cowans
- a legend – had died in 1921 – and was given a State funeral.
There was mudslinging all-round. Dorothy’s team claimed she’d
been intimidated by claims about her misconduct. Ian’s team described Dorothy as a blackmailer misusing private letters
written by him ( pet name “Tiger” ).
The case dominated newspaper headlines for weeks. Well-dressed women
camped in the Strand to visit the Court scene. The King wrote to the Lord Chancellor of his
“disgust and shame” about the case.
Edward Marshall Hall – who’d misguidedly taken the brief
as a friend of Ian - lost control of his attacks on Dorothy, she remained cool throughout 14 hours of cross-examination. Her immorality was exposed with many lovers named.
One, a Spaniard, Bolin (with whom she fell pregnant and was to marry) was cited as the true reason for divorcing Dennistoun. And that Dorothy had only taken the proceedings as Ian’s new wife was very rich and was sure she’d want to settle out of
It was said “ Tiger” Dennistoun was fully aware and
encouraged Dorothy’s liaisons with Cowans. Ian’s appointments between
1913-17 were orchestrated by Cowans, first as a favour, then only for sex. In
1916, Ian visited the Ritz Hotel, Paris ahead of Cowans seducing Dorothy to ensure
everything was laid-on.
Dorothy impressed the Jury who awarded her £5000 damages. The Judge said
this was inconsistent with the law. He gave judgement in favour of Dorothy’s claims for only £472.18 ruling “there was no binding agreement to support her.” The
case incurred ten-of-thousands of pounds in costs and lawyers’ fees, neither party saved face.
Interestingly it was the last divorce case of endless dirty-washing being
hung out in public. Despite a strong protest campaign by the Press, Parliament
passed the Judicial Proceedings
(Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 prohibiting the detailed
reporting of divorce cases in newspapers.