Major John Prendergast Gouriet (born 1 June 1935) is a British Army officer, company director and political activist. He is most well known for being a founder of the National Association for Freedom (now The Freedom Association), and for pioneering the use of legal action to oppose actions of trade unions and campaigning groups which he believed to interfere with personal liberty, during three years as the Association's director. He is presently Chairman of 'Defenders of the Realm', a group which opposes British membership of the European Union.
Gouriet was the only son of a Wing Commander in the Royal Air Force from Watchet in Somerset. Gouriet was educated at Charterhouse School in Girdlestoneites House, from where he won a place at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1954. He did well at Sandhurst and was commissioned as an officer in the Army in the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars with seniority from December 1955. He joined his regiment in Malaya on active service.
In the Army Gouriet became the second in command of a company of the Somaliland Scouts] from 1959 until the Scouts were disbanded in late 1960. He was promoted to Captain in 1961, became Adjutant of the Trucial Oman Scouts from 1961 to 1963, and then served as General Staff Officer Grade III Intelligence 1965-66 to the Director of Operations in Borneo After attending Staff College, Camberley where he earned a recommendation to return on the Teaching Staff as a Lieut Colonel, he became a Squadron Leader in 15/19 Hussars, a Chieftain tank regiment in Germany. He finished his Army career as Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General at the Ministry of Defence, responsible for Q Operations and Plans, in 1971 to 1972. and retired voluntarily on compassionate grounds
Leaving the Army with the rank of Major in 1973, Gouriet went to work as an assistant to Sir Walter Salomon Rea brothers merchant bank in the City of London. He later described how, shortly afterwards, on a grouse-shooting trip to Speyside with family and friends, he was discussing the political and economic state of Britain in 1973-1974, he told the assembled party over lunch in the heather that "It's no use complaining and then doing nothing!" That night he resolved to "take up the cudgels" himself. Gouriet then contacted Ralph Harris of the free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs to discuss linking up sympathetic groups and forming a co-ordinated opposition; Harris introduced him to Ross McWhirter. During the Conservative Party conference of 1975, Gouriet and McWhirter placed a copy of a campaign broadsheet called "Majority" on every seat.
The two had begun work on setting up their new organisation when they heard of an incident which gave them an opportunity to campaign. A P & O ferry crew had been sacked on arriving at Southampton and had responded by impounding all the cars on their ship, which had not been unloaded. Gouriet thought that this action was illegal and agreed with McWhirter to challenge it; they found one of the car owners (John Nundy) who was willing to be a test case and funded him to apply for an injunction to release his car. After a hearing reportedly lasting eight minutes, Nundy was granted an injunction by the High Court against both P & O and the leader of the strike, requiring the release of his car. Gouriet later noted that, by good fortune, it turned out that Nundy's car was at the back of the ship and so all other cars had to be offloaded before his could be reached.
Gouriet then tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Home Secretary to put up a reward of £50,000 for information leading to the conviction of IRA members. When refused, Ross McWhirter decided to do so himself; this decision led to his assassination by the IRA Balcombe Street gang. Less than a week after, on 2 December 1975 the National Association for Freedom was launched at the Savoy Hotel, with Gouriet as Campaign Director.
The Association paid the full legal costs of a group of six parents of children at state schools in Tameside who intervened in a legal action by the Secretary of State for Education and Science who sought to force the local authority to adopt a system of comprehensive education. Opposition to communism was one of the Association's key points and for his work Gouriet was awarded the Polish Gold Cross of Merit by the Polish government-in-exile in London. He was the sole British Guard of Honour at the unveiling of the memorial to the Katyn massacre in Gunnersbury, west London, in September 1976.
In early 1977 the Union of Post Office Workers decided to boycott all telephone calls, mail and telegrams to and from South Africa, in order to protest against apartheid. Gouriet, for the National Association For Freedom, applied for an injunction to prevent the boycott under the Post Office Act 1953 which made it illegal to impede the mail. Attorney General Samuel Silkin refused consent for what was called a 'relator action'; Gouriet went to court to challenge the refusal, and also issued a writ against the UPW in his own name anyway which was immediately turned down. He lost his challenge to Silkin's refusal in the High Court but immediately appealed;[13 ] in the Court of Appeal, Lord Denning granted a temporary injunction, summoned Silkin, and said that it was "very doubtful whether the Attorney General had directed himself properly".
When Silkin appeared in Court, he insisted that the Court of Appeal had no power to examine his reasons for refusing Gouriet consent, because this was the role of Parliament. After a four day hearing, Gouriet succeeded in establishing that an individual could challenge the Attorney General's refusal, in overturning the refusal in the immediate case, and in obtaining a permanent injunction. This court defeat was highly embarrassing and Silkin was jeered with shouts of "resign" when he came to Parliament to explain. Silkin appealed to the House of Lords.
In the summer of 1977, Gouriet began considering whether to intervene in the Grunwick dispute in which a branch of the Post Office Workers Union had "blacked" mail to a photographic laboratory at which there was a strike. Instead, the National Association for Freedom undertook a bizarre operation to liberate the post with the co-operation of the company and the police. At 1am on Saturday 9 July, Gouriet organised 25 volunteers who loaded about 100,000 processed films from Grunwick on to two articulated lorries, and drove them to a depot north of London. There they stuck postage stamps on them, before dividing the packages between a large number of cars and vans who drove all over the country to put them in different postboxes. In this way the Grunwick mail was delivered despite identifiable packaging, and what was called "Operation Pony Express" was judged a success.
Later that month Gouriet's campaign was dealt a blow when the House of Lords reversed the decision on the South African mail boycott, landing the association with costs then estimated at £30,000. This decision also prevented legal action in the Grunwick case and Gouriet denounced it as "a black day" in which "the law has been made a mockery". The Association launched an appeal for funds to pay its legal costs.
In February 1978 Gouriet revealed that the legal costs had actually amounted to £90,857 and that it had only until the end of March to pay them. He appealed for help, saying that failure to pay "will spell the end of NAFF and probably any organised resistance to the advance of communo-socialism in Britain" as well as his own personal bankruptcy. On 16 March Gouriet was able to announce that more than £90,000 had been raised.
Gouriet announced his resignation as director of the National Association for Freedom on 25 June 1978 after an internal disagreement over the role of the Association's management committee. He became chairman of Stevens-Lefield Foods Ltd, a company specialising in pre-packed and pre-cooked meals, and also a Director of Park Air Travel Ltd. From 1991 he was a director and consultant to General Portfolio plc.
Gouriet later formed his own group, Freedom In Action, of which he remains Chairman. An active member of the Referendum Party, Gouriet was a Parliamentary candidate for the party in the 1997 general election in West Derbyshire; he polled 2,499 votes. He acted as campaign manager for the Earl of Burford at the Kensington and Chelsea byelection in November 1999.
After an attempt to challenge the removal of hereditary peers in the House of Lords Act 1999 failed in 2000, Gouriet was again landed with a bill for substantial legal costs; he appealed to members of the House of Lords for help.
During the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001, Gouriet opposed the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's mass slaughter of animals on farms neighbouring outbreaks. He travelled throughout Britain campaigning against unnecessary culling.
In 2002 Gouriet and Norris McWhirter (twin brother of Ross McWhirter) co-founded 'Defenders of the Realm' as an organisation campaigning against British membership of the European Union. Gouriet remains Chairman of the group, and is appealing for funds to mount a legal challenge to British membership by means of judicial review. The Defenders claim that ancient documents including the Magna Carta, Declaration of Rights and the Coronation Act 1688 prohibit membership.[31 ]