Adrian Dingli was born in Malta in 1881. He was the only son of Sir Adtian Dingli, Chief Justice of the island between 1880-1900. He was educated at St Ignatius College, Malta, at the Jesuit College of Mondragone in Italy, and at universities in Rome and Malta. After graduating in law, he practised for a time as a lawyer in Malta. (1)
Dingli enjoyed driving racing cars and he took part in the Paris-Madrid race of 1903. As a result in the high number of accidents it became known as the "race to death". (2) On 7th January, 1905, Dingli married Geraldine Curwen, youngest daughter of Henry Fraser Curwen (1834-1900) of Workington Hall, Cumberland. (3)
Dingli became active in Conservative Party politics and in 1912 became a candidate for South Islington on the London County Council. (4) Dingli passed the Bar at Gray’s Inn during 1912, and became a barrister in London. During the First World War he served with the Royal Marine Artillery. (5) He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant but promoted to the rank of major and became a temporary captain on 1st December 1916. (6)
Geraldine Dingli died on 2nd November 1928, aged 50, in Lewes, Sussex. Adrian Dingli married Dorothy Elizabeth Reuter in 1930. Reuter parents were both born in Germany and ran a bakery business in Lambeth. The couple lived at 3 Roedean Crescent, Roehampton. In 1932 a child, Paul Dingli was born. (7)
Dingli developed a relationship with Major George Joseph Ball, the former Director of the Conservative Research Department, and by 1937 the political adviser to Neville Chamberlain, who had just replaced Stanley Baldwin as prime minister. Ball got to know Dingli at the Carlton Club "where the British Empire's movers and shakers met was testament to his Britishness." (8)
As Giorgio Peresso has pointed out: "Chamberlain believed that since both Britain's economy and its military defences were weak, the best bet was appeasement to the Nazi-Fascist regimes to avoid war. His Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, believed that appeasement facilitated the possibility of war. Nevertheless, the British prime minister was determined to reach an accommodation with the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini." (9)
On 10th January, 1937, Ball told Dingli that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain "wished to know whether Grandi would obtain permission from Rome to start 'talks' in London with the PM". Dingli was suspicious, but Ball assured him that, with Eden abroad, Chamberlain was acting Foreign Secretary and the "suggestion represented the view of the PM". David Faber argued: "Grandi was in Rome at the time, and Ball knew that any message sent en clair by telegram would be deciphered by British intelligence and passed to the Foreign Office, and thus to Eden. Incredibly, it necessitated a series of guarded telephone calls between London and Rome to convey the gist of Chamberlain's message without the information reaching the ears of his own Foreign Secretary." (10)
It was originally arranged for Chamberlain to meet Ambassador Count Dino Grandi on 17th January. However, this was cancelled when Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Deputy Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs discovered what was going on. Ball and Dingli now created an unofficial diplomatic channel which allowed Chamberlain to communicate with the Italian Government behind the backs of the Foreign Office and vice versa. It was a deliberate attempt to circumvent Anthony Eden, who was adamant that no further concessions should be made to Italy unless and until she verifiably withdrew her support for General Francisco Franco and abandoned her claim to Abyssinia. (11)
This development was almost entirely to the Italians' advantage. This unofficial diplomatic channel was welcomed by Benito Mussolini as he could see how it would cause conflict within the British government and as the Italian Ambassador Count Dino Grandi pointed out it provided an opportunity to "drive a wedge into the incipient split between Eden and Chamberlain and to enlarge it more if possible." (12)
On 21st January, the BBC announced that "no efforts to improve Anglo-Italian relations were at all contemplated". This announcement upset Dino Grandi and Chamberlain told Ball to arrange for the story to be refuted. Under pressure from Ball, the following evening the BBC declared that the story had been inaccurate. Ball told newspaper editors that "Chamberlain had spoken firmly to Eden, told him to to toe the line, and instructed him to unearth the original source of the story." (13)
Eden wrote to Chamberlain on 8th February, 1938, that this diplomacy "recreates in Mussolini's mind the impression that he can divide us and he will be the less ready to pay attention to what I have to say to Grandi... Rome was already giving out the impression from that interview that we are courting her, with the purpose, no doubt, of showing Berlin how worth courting she is... This was exactly the hand which mussolini always likes to play and plays with so much skill when he gets a chance. I do not think we should let him." (14)
Major George Joseph Ball continued to work on persuading the media to report favourably on Chamberlain's appeasement policy. It was also important to use the media to undermine those who were opposing this policy. Ball told Count Dino Grandi that his publicity campaign was running at "full blast", and he was delighted to hear that "every possible persuasion was being placed on the Press to conform to the desired object of reversing public opinion about Italy." (15)
An article that appeared in The Daily Mail especially upset the Foreign Secretary: "I am able to state authoritatively that the British Government is eager to press forward new negotiations with Italy with least possible delay. Count Grandi, the Italian Ambassador, is to see Mr. Eden as the Foreign Office today. It is felt in political quarters that already there has been far too much delay in seeking a solution of the differences between Britain and Italy." It added that full legal recognition of Abyssinia would be conceded "as part of a general settlement". (16)
Eden was furious when he read the article as it had "all the hallmarks of authoritative inspiration". (17) Eden asked about this but Chamberlain "flatly denied any responsibility - a barefaced lie." Oliver Harvey, a civil servant working in the Foreign Office correctly discovered the truth: "A curious story reaches me that press campaign about Italy was given out by Sir Joseph Ball at Conservative Head Office, not from No. 10. By whose authority I wonder." In fact, the story was authorized by Chamberlain. (18)
Some newspapers contained stories about the conflict between Chamberlain and Eden. Major Ball persuaded the Sunday Times to run an article denying a disagreement over foreign policy: "There is no truth in the stories published yesterday of acute differences between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and of a consequent Ministerial crisis. Though the reports vary in scope and detail, they agree in representing Mr. Chamberlain as the adventurous spirit in foreign policy and Mr Eden as the advocate of more cautious and slower action. I have the highest authority for saying that there is not a word of truth in all this. The Prime Minister and Mr. Eden are in complete agreement." (19)
Neville Chamberlain resigned on 10th May 1940. Major Ball now lost his power and cut off his relationship with Dingli, whose pro-Italian inclinations turned him into an enemy. Dingli worked in a business in Bristol. According to Giorgio Peresso: "Ball believed that his standing was hostage to Dingli's scrupulous record of his secret diplomacy, as potential sensational disclosures about pre-war negotiations involving Ball could endanger his reputation. While Europe was celebrating Victory Day, the former diplomat became a victim of Ball's intrigues, implicating Dingli in wrongdoings in business. (20)
Adrian Dingli died at 3 Roedean Crescent, Roehampton on 29th May, 1945. (21) Officially he had committed suicide but his wife, Dorothy Elizabeth Reuter, believed that he had been murdered because "two days later, MI5, with which, according to some accounts... Dingli was previously associated, the British security agents seized his diary." (22) Jonathan Pile claims that Ball wrote to his friend, Samuel Hoare, the former Home Secretary: "MI5 dealt with him (Adrian Dingli) in the usual way, he shot himself." (23)
Among Ball's contacts was one Adrian Dingli, a barrister of Maltese-Italian-English extraction. Dingli had been raised in Malta, the son of the country's Chief Justice, had served with the Royal Marine Artillery during the First World War, and subsequently settled in London. From his chambers in the Middle Temple he acted as legal counsel for the Italian embassy, becoming a confidant of the ambassador, Count Grandi, while as a member of the high-Tory Carlton Club he became acquainted with Ball.
Ball relied on some shady characters, in particular a lawyer of Maltese-Italian-English extraction called Adrian Dingli, whom Ball engaged to provide secret information "about Italian Diplomatic moves" and to enable a completely deniable avenue to the Italian ambassador, the newly ennobled Count Dino Grandi, and through him to Galeazzo Ciano, who was Mussolini's son-in-law and his Minister for Press and Propaganda.
While he acted as legal adviser to the Italian Embassy in London, Dingli was also consultant to the War Office in London as from 1922. This ambivalent position would earn him the reputation of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds – which would cost him dearly at the end of his life.
On being told by Sir Herbert Creedy, the permanent under-secretary at the War Office (1920-1939), that his role with another government was incompatible with the War Office assignment, Dingli chose to work for the Italians.
He cherished British institutions. His membership of the Carlton Club, where the British Empire's movers and shakers met was testament to his Britishness. But he was also an ardent Italophile at heart.
Dingli's fame reached its peak after Sir Neville Chamberlain became prime minister in May 1937. Chamberlain believed that since both Britain's economy and its military defences were weak, the best bet was appeasement to the Nazi-Fascist regimes to avoid war.
His Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, believed that appeasement facilitated the possibility of war. Nevertheless, the British prime minister was determined to reach an accommodation with the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini.
Chamberlain not only had misgivings about his Foreign Office but also wanted to influence British foreign policy to suit his own abilities and judgement.
He bypassed the British Embassy in Rome in his approaches to Mussolini, using such conduits as Lady Ivy Chamberlain, widow of his brother Austen. He therefore preferred to rely on a personal friend, Major Ball, the head of the Conservative Research Office.
Ball was described by Michael Dobbs, the Conservative politician and bestselling author, as Chamberlain's thug and political twister. Ball was as ruthless a schemer as could be.
He found in his old Gray's Inn colleague Dingli a source of valuable contacts linking him to a circle which would lead to the Duce himself.
On July 12, 1937, the Italian Ambassador in London, Count Dino Grandi, wrote a rather long letter to his Foreign Minister in Rome, Count Galeazzo Ciano, informing him of Dingli's imminent secret mission to Rome.
He described Dingli as the "legal adviser of this embassy and a Maltese patriot who has always stuck to the cause of Malta's italianità, connected to the Carlton Club for many years, who was approached by Sir Joseph Ball, chief policy adviser to the Conservative Party and a very close friend of Neville Chamberlain".
Ball had given Dingli a long speech on Chamberlain's sincere desire to come to a complete understanding with Italy, working out cordial relations before initiating official steps through the Foreign Office. Grandi, however, revealed his secret agenda to Ciano: to sow discord between Chamberlain and Eden...
Dingli was simply used to divert attention from Italy's real intentions. What interested the Italians most was to exploit the divergences between Chamberlain and his Foreign Minister, Eden. In fact, Eden resigned and the Anglophile Grandi was replaced by a more dogmatic Fascist, Giuseppe Bastianini.
Still, Grandi, after he became Minister of Justice, called his friend Dingli to Rome. From now on, the channel was to operate solely through him and Ball. Grandi reiterated that Germany was determined to go to war. He therefore advised the Maltese diplomat to find some cover for his frequent trips to Rome. Dingli chose that of a British film agent.
While Hitler was rolling up the map of Europe, Chamberlain as late as April, 1940, was making a last-ditch attempt to mollify Mussolini.
Dingli's role did not go unnoticed by Colonel Liddell, a high-ranking intelligence officer. Dingli's reputation as a man with powerful links with Rome had not waned in spite of a deteriorating geo-political situation as Dingli was reputed to have supplied Ball with details of secret clauses in the military alliance between Italy and Germany.
The chief of British security services, Major-General Sir Stewart Menzies, snubbed Liddell for grilling the Maltese lawyer before his trip to Rome. Ciano recorded in his diary that Dingli impressed him as being of rather secondary importance.
The die was cast. Italy invaded Albania on Good Friday, April 7, 1940. At that time, Ball met Dingli, telling him that "his master" was extremely angry. This dealt a death-blow to appeasement and Dingli's links. Chamberlain's days were numbered.
After Chamberlain's resignation on May 10, 1940, Ball survived, but Dingli's pro-Italian inclinations turned him into an enemy.
During the war, Dingli worked in a business in Bristol. Ball believed that his standing was hostage to Dingli's scrupulous record of his secret diplomacy, as potential sensational disclosures about pre-war negotiations involving Ball could endanger his reputation.
While Europe was celebrating Victory Day, the former diplomat became a victim of Ball's intrigues, implicating Dingli in wrongdoings in business. Dingli died unexpectedly, probably murdered, on May 29, 1945.
Two days later, MI5, with which, according to some accounts... Dingli was previously associated, the British security agents seized his diary.
Lord Avon recorded almost as an afterthought in his memoirs that the full story will probably never be known. What Ball and the secret service did not know was that there was a duplicate copy of the diary. In 1950, when the coast was clear, Dingli's widow went to Lisbon where Grandi was living in exile and handed the duplicate copy.
The suicide of Maltese-italian Adrian Dingli, Ball's friend and back-channel to Mussolini. His book had been seized by MI5 but he got his hands on a shotgun and blew his brains out, just as the war was ending in 1945. Ball wrote to his friend Sam Hoare, " MI5 dealt with him in the usual way, he shot himself." What is striking is that Dingli's end exactly mirrors the suicide of Peter Mazzina in 1943, who unbelievably hung himself with the cord from his silk dining jacket, with a policeman outside the door and his friends enroute with the money for his.