A government advisor, his dungeon master and a very British security scandal
Sir John Guinness, the advisor to three prime ministers, was a security risk who indulged a dangerous compulsion for sadomasochism throughout his political career, including while advising the Queen.
An Upsetter investigation into the secret life of the former diplomat and mandarin responsible for privatising Britain’s energy sector has revealed he risked all in pursuit of dungeon masters to thrash, torture and choke him out.
So much so, towards the end of his life, Sir John paid over £400,000 in hush money to a ‘master’ known on the BDSM scene as Ares.
Their 25-year relationship began while Sir John ran the government agency responsible for UK nuclear energy security.
The pair met for ‘master-slave’ sessions in dungeons across the country and also in a flat Sir John had bought to hide his compulsion from colleagues, rivals and his high-profile brewing and banking family.
Through his relationship with Ares, Sir John was unwittingly sucked into other BDSM scandals involving establishment figures, including the chairman of a leading private members club and the death of a spy found rotting in a sports bag.
Ares, whose real name is Shaun O’Driscoll, came from the other side of the tracks and graduated from rent boy to private punisher of the elite.
Sir John was not the dungeon master’s only high profile punter. Others, he claimed, included a ranking royal cop and cross-party MPs.
The senior Guinness family member’s complex relationship with O’Driscoll eventually soured when the working-class dungeon master suffered a breakdown and started requiring substantial payments from his upper-class slave.
O’Driscoll used as leverage a sex tape made for a Channel 4 documentary, a self-published autobiography and a thinly veiled fictional play about their escapades.
Fearing exposure, Sir John made six-figure payments to his dungeon master through a Swiss trust, but never reported O’Driscoll to the police. In fact, he continued their relationship until his death in 2020 from pancreatic cancer.
The revelations of yet another security scandal in the kinky British establishment raise important questions about MI5 vetting procedures and what intelligence services on all sides knew about Sir John’s predilections and vulnerability at the height of the Cold War.
The prime ministerial and royal advisor took minimal security precautions when seeking out dungeon masters in contact magazines and online. He used a pseudonym and later a fake email address, neither of which were difficult to get behind.
Such recklessness left Sir John wide open to pressure from foreign spies, big business and of course those he paid to beat and humiliate him.
Money, they say, has no smell. But the soiled notes in Shaun O’Driscoll’s jean pocket positively reeked.
It was the early 1980s and the teenager was full of self-loathing on his back way to Coventry on the Inter City 125.
Channelled through his Walkman, Marc Almond’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ obliterated the prodding memory of the last two hours on the Meat Rack.
The strip of pavement that wrapped around the flagship Wimpey in Piccadilly Circus was where respectable men in need of sex, punishment, sometimes company but rarely love, picked up rent boys.
Shaun was an ‘Inter City Kid’ - one of those gay-for-pay troubled teenagers who hopped the 125 to earn cash pleasuring men before returning on the last train home.
Like many, he arrived on London’s seediest patch of real estate with acute and unresolved emotional trauma. Two incidents in his formative years shaped his future, he told The Upsetter.
The day his father walked out in 1968 was one. Shaun clung crying to his leg in a hopeless act of sabotage. And when his father was gone, the 8-year-old quickly developed an obsession with cleaning the family home so his mother could cope and wouldn’t leave too.
Later, when a skinhead started bullying him into shoplifting, Shaun joined a boxing club. Cleanliness and the art of controlled violence became his world.
Then one night in 1973, after a session at the gym, he bumped into a former teacher at the bus stop. The man said his wife was in the public toilets across the road giving head through a glory hole and wondered if the 13-year-old fancied it.
But Shaun was walking into a trap. Two men raped and left his bleeding body on the piss-puddled floor. He never reported the incident. But the rage it caused inside never left.
Shaun abandoned school two years later and after failing to get into the army tried to end his life with Paracetamol and gin.
Some time after his release from hospital, he shacked up with a prostitute and her baby son. In need of a job, Shaun reconnected with his father, who found the now 16-year-old work in a Coventry funeral parlour collecting and preparing cadavers.
The reunion was not healthy. Since the rape, Shaun recognised a hyper-sexual urge in him, which his father triggered during bouts of drinking with women who he offered to his son. Dad liked to watch and later killed himself, he said.
At 18 and while drunk, Shaun had his first gay-for-pay experience. A second encounter was less consensual because the older punter drugged and ripped him off.
Returning home in a psychotic state, he started firing an air gun from the balcony of his high rise council flat. The incident made the local papers when two ‘hero’ policemen intervened and disarmed the teenager.
No charges followed because the hospital confirmed Shaun had been drugged. But the funeral parlour sacked him.
His lover suggested they team up and roll her punters - the Bonnie and Clyde of Coventry. But Shaun had a plan of his own. The 19-year-old was heading south to make money hustling on the Meat Rack.
He quickly immersed himself in its micro-community of rent boys in an era when the age of consent for gay sex was 21, being out could mean professional suicide, ‘queer bashing’ was a thing and the AIDS pandemic loomed.
It was a dangerous occupation for a traumatised young man for other reasons, not least because the gay serial killer Dennis Nilsen was prowling the Meat Rack for victims until he was caught in 1982, due to a drain blocked with human bones.
‘Dilly’ regulars also included predators looking for young strays and runaway boys - ‘chicken’ - to pimp out to paedophile groups that included celebrities and the politically powerful.
The important distinction between being gay and a paedophile was even more lost on society back then. Nevertheless, those drawn to the Meat Rack all risked something: blackmail, prison, rape, rip off and death.
Shaun soon learned how to rendezvous with punters in the Gents at the Regency Palace Hotel - now an UGG boots store but still a few paces from the Meat Rack. It was no small achievement to blend in with lobby guests while dressed in tight eighties stonewashed denim with a spikey bottle blonde crop and mirror shades.
When business was good, Shaun missed the last 125 to Coventry and stayed in nearby Dolphin Square at a flat owned by a gay man who worked for the royal family.
Through upmarket punters, Shaun says he was introduced to cross-party politicians including Stephen Milligan, the Tory MP who years later died alone during an act of autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong.
In his time on the Meat Rack, Shaun survived a psychotic punter pulling a knife and became an in demand ‘Dilly’ regular with a reputation for dishing out the ‘rough stuff’.
He moved from Coventry to Manchester in 1986 to set up as a dungeon master specialising in the more extreme types of BDSM - from choking out punters to fisting.
The legal landscape would clarify itself the following year when Manchester police, then led by a bible bashing homophobe, launched Operation Spanner after finding a video of men they believed were being tortured to death.
The 16 participants ran a defence of consent, which went all the way to the Law Lords. But the highest judges in the land and in Europe remained unmoved and the convictions were upheld: Sadomasochism between consenting adults that caused significant harm to a person was an assault.
John Ralph Sidney Guinness attended Rugby school in the war years, graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge and told a confidant it was during national service in the RAF that he learned Russian and developed a taste for BDSM.
Coming from the brewing and banking dynasty, he initially chose the City but his career there was short-lived. In 1961, he joined the Overseas Development Institute and then the Foreign Office twelve months later – where he stayed for the next 18 years.
His diplomatic career involved overseas postings as economic secretary at the British High Commission in Canada and part of the UK mission to the United Nations in New York.
He married in 1967 and had three children. Much of the Seventies were spent at the Cabinet Office think tank, the Central Policy Review Staff, initially under Lord Rothschild, who answered to then Tory prime minister Edward Heath.
While at the think tank, Guinness developed an interest in the energy sector, especially nuclear power, which eased his move to the government department dealing with the coal, oil, gas and electricity industries at a time of huge industrial unrest that MI5 and Special Branch were monitoring.
Vetting was no impediment to his appointment as deputy secretary at the department of energy from 1983-91 and then permanent secretary from 1991-2.
The high-flying mandarin enjoyed good relations with Margaret Thatcher and then John Major while pushing through energy privatisation of the gas and electricity industries.
In 1993, he left Whitehall to take up the chairmanship of British Nuclear Fuels Limited. The Government-owned BNFL sold electricity and managed nuclear reactors, including the controversial Thorp plant development at Sellafield on the Cumbria coast.
Unlike television ads at the time extolling the goodness of drinking Guinness, nuclear power was a hard sell to the public. The new BNFL chairman tried to win over residents claiming he enjoyed the local mussels. His hidden appetite for BDSM was a lot riskier.
Fisting The Rich
After learning his hustle on the Meat Rack, Shaun O’Driscoll was making a name for himself in the north west of England as a dungeon master known as Ares. The moniker was apt for someone wanting to unleash their self-loathing on others.
But talented hustlers like Shaun were also looking for older, rich regulars to punish, and in 1990 he found a slave whose desire to be dominated was as deep as his pockets.
Duke Roberto Ferretti di Castelferretto, an art-loving wealthy aristocrat in his mid-sixties, had a wife in Italy but lived a double life in London with a younger man who handled his investments.
Shaun was put on a £50,000 annual retainer to discipline and fist the Duke while enacting scenes from the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Italian director who recreated the works of the Marquis de Sade on the silver screen.
The role play included masonic rituals associated with the death of Vatican banker Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging from London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.
Records show a UK company and Nationwide bank account were set up for Shaun to purchase Lancashire town houses in Chorley and Blackburn that were refurbished as dungeons with spy holes for the Duke and his friends.
One room was done up like a barracks, another had a surgical theme and others had various cages and a full-size crucifix.
The Duke also had set up a Swiss bank account at Gutzwiller & Cie into which he deposited £100,000 for Shaun to buy a home for his dungeon master’s wife and young children.
Shaun had confided in his wife about his past, but she was in the dark about the present. He told her the generous Italian aristocrat had simply hired him as a personal bodyguard.
The Duke formed an enterprise with Shaun called Ferrod - a fusion of their surnames - and used his dungeon master to ‘dirty’ willing friends during get togethers in Lancashire and London.
God of War
Throughout his time with the Duke, Shaun was also servicing John Guinness. They met in the 1990s when the chairman of British Nuclear Fuels came across an advert for Ares – a self-styled ‘Correction Specialist’.
The peroxide blond had packed his small but toned frame into a white singlet and black leather trousers with one hand on his crotch and the other holding a spanking paddle.
BNFL was based in Lancashire, so the Duke’s dungeons were perfect for Guinness to get to know his new master while away from his family mansion in Norfolk.
On his retirement from BNFL in 1999, Sir John was knighted. Two years later he became a trustee of the Royal Collection Trust, the Queen’s art collection overseen by Prince Charles, who became a friend.
Still married and still a devotee of being tortured by men in uniform, in 2005 Sir John bought a £1m flat off the Kings Road in Chelsea that he kitted out for BDSM sessions.
The former energy czar liked another dungeon master, a Russian known as ‘The Cossack’, who specialised in a form of torture Sir John called “electrical pursuits”.
The Cossack electrocuted the knight of the realm’s nipples and balls in between trips to Russia.
Shaun, however, remained Sir John’s favourite tormentor, but the now-veteran dungeon master was beginning to unravel in his mid-forties with bouts of depression and heavy drinking that he kept from clients.
His wife had kicked him out of the family home after learning of a plan in 2005 to participate in a tacky Channel 4 documentary series on the dark side of the sex trade.
Shaun was going on national television to discuss his relationship with the Duke, who’d recently died, in an attempt to get a bigger slice of the 81-year-old aristocrat’s estate.
Hitesh Tailor, the Duke’s accountant boyfriend, was executor of his will, which included a list of beneficiaries from the dark side of his life. Shaun was one of them and Tailor paid £66,000 into the dungeon master’s bank account.
But Shaun claimed he was owed £1.5m – based on an alleged agreement of £100,000 for every year of service to the Duke.
It was at this point that Sir John was unwittingly roped into a scheme to get more money.
The Queen’s art custodian had agreed to come to Lancashire for a session in the barracks-themed room of one of the dungeon houses bought with the Duke’s money.
Sir John didn’t know that he was going to be secretly filmed by Channel 4 with his military trousers around his ankles while receiving lashes from a dragon cane.
It turned out that Shaun, dressed as a drill sergeant, had provided the programme makers with a forged consent form.
Sir John remained none the wiser when the documentary ‘Me and My Slaves’ was broadcast in 2006 – only his scared buttocks were fully exposed to the camera – and happily continued to engage Shaun’s services.
But by now the favoured dungeon master had lost all sense of discretion, so vital to his trade, and in 2008 published an autobiography, Memoirs of a Beast: Me and My Slaves, with poorly pixelated photos of the Duke and others.
The following year, Shaun penned a play about his relationship with the fictional ‘Sir James Gilfroy’, who he described as an ‘ex-government minister, millionaire businessman, ruthless and arrogant.’
With Tailor still refusing to pay any more money from the Duke’s estate, Shaun saw in Sir John someone who might. The BDSM addict might even enjoy it, he reasoned.
Sir John was led to believe he would be drawn into litigation Shaun was bringing against Channel 4 over an alleged unpaid fee for his co-operation in the documentary.
The broadcaster disputed Shaun’s claim, but quickly came to an agreement with Sir John’s lawyers to hand back all of the secretly filmed thrashing session.
However, before the tapes were handed over, Shaun switched them for blank ones.
He then struck a bizarre deal with Sir John who, thinking he had secured the footage, agreed to pay Shaun £70,000 in return for all copies of the autobiography and the play.
While Shaun battled Channel 4, his attention was drawn to news of a British spy’s mysterious death in August 2010.
31-year-old Gareth Williams’ decomposed naked body had been found in a padlocked red sports bag inside the spotless bathroom of his central London flat.
The young man’s photo reminded Shaun of a student at Manchester University who had caught the Duke’s eye. Shaun had apparently persuaded the young man to watch Pasolini re-enactments with the Duke at one of the dungeons.
Williams had studied at Manchester University and went on to work as a codebreaker for GCHQ, the government listening post in Cheltenham. He was on secondment to MI6 in London when his body was discovered.
Stories started to emerge, some the intelligence services were suspected of planting, suggesting Williams had a secret life as a gay man with a taste for women’s clothes and BDSM.
Theories about his death ranged from an unassisted fetishistic Houdini act that went wrong to murder by foreign agents made to look like a kinky accident.
One story in The Sun cited police sources implying that Williams had used the Italian film director Pasolini’s first names for BDSM encounters.
A Mediterranean-looking couple had attended the spy’s flat in Pimlico looking for ‘Pier Paolo’ and homicide detectives subsequently issued an E-fit of the man and women they were trying to trace.
Shaun was convinced it was Gareth Williams he had picked up in Manchester and ‘dirtied’ at the Duke’s dungeon. So in early 2011 he contacted homicide detectives using his Ares email address but real name.
Shaun discussed with detective chief inspector Jacqueline Sebire putting up a £20,000 reward to help locate the Mediterranean-looking couple through his contacts in the BDSM community.
In March 2011, DCI Sebire emailed thanking Shaun for his “candid and informed” contribution to her investigation but turned down the offer.
She believed there was third party involvement in the spy’s death. The hypothesis received support in May 2012 when the coroner concluded that Williams’ death was “criminally mediated” and on the balance of probabilities an “unlawful killing”.
It also emerged during the inquest that MI6 inexplicably waited days before raising the alarm about their missing codebreaker and withheld USB memory sticks seized from Williams’ flat.
Years later in July 2014, Shaun again contacted DCI Sebire. This time he wanted her advice on speaking out about the establishment cover up of historic child abuse by VIP paedophiles, some of them political figures.
The scandal was very much in the news with the government planning a public inquiry. Shaun wanted to speak about former Liberal party grandee Sir Cyril Smith. His email to DCI Sebire said:
“I have been wrestling with certain memories of the individual for some time but my experiences regarding the Gareth Williams enquiries have for one reason or another left me reluctant to come forward with names and circumstances of Cyril’s ‘well placed posse’ of like minded deviants within the Liberal Party during the early 80s. I used to ‘service’ these well-known associates on a weekly basis at the National Liberal Club down on the Embankment.”
The Rochdale MP’s death in 2010 led to a re-examination of allegations that Sir Cyril had been a predatory abuser of boys since the 1960s.
DCI Sebire was thoughtful and pointed Shaun to the Independent Inquiry of Child Sexual Abuse, which is still hearing evidence and some time away from a final report.
A significant number of Met and other police officers have since come forward claiming they were ordered in the 80s to stop investigating paedophile rings, some connected to the Meat Rack, whenever politicians and celebrities entered the frame. Their evidence has also been passed to the public inquiry.
The Black Bag
Meanwhile, Shaun returned to his fight with Hitesh Tailor, the dead Duke’s boyfriend and administrator of his will.
The dungeon master made a legal claim against Tailor over the loss of a black briefcase allegedly containing sex tapes of the Duke and similar material of other society figures.
In a statement to the court, Tailor denied any knowledge of the briefcase.
‘What would be my motivation in hiding this briefcase, if it exists at all. And if the bag does exist, why does [Shaun O’Driscoll] think it belongs to him?’
The legal action came at a bad time for Tailor, who as chairman of the Reform Club was facing a revolt from members over his management style.
The private members’ club in Pall Mall was London’s oldest and named after an act of parliament that introduced democratic reform in the 1830s.
The Duke had encouraged Tailor to become a member. So the accountant worked his way up the governing committee to become chairman, a position that was now up for election.
Tailor told the court he never approved of the Duke’s “private liaisons” with Shaun, who he found “intimidating”, but was unable to stop them.
The Reform Club chairman confirmed the dungeon master had received a payment of £66,000 as one of the “legacies” the Duke had left his “friends”. But Tailor suggested to the court he was now being blackmailed by Shaun, who denied it.
In December 2016, the judge refused the Reform Club chairman’s request to keep the case secret.
The following month, Tailor did not stand for election. He said the decision had nothing to do with losing the application to anonymise the legal case brought against him by his dead boyfriend’s dungeon master.
The judge, however, eventually dismissed Shaun’s claim over the black bag of sex tapes.
The Dark Side
The dungeon master was not deterred and turned his attention back to Channel 4. Shaun instructed a Manchester lawyer, Andrew Davies, to press his claim for mistreatment by the broadcaster over the documentary.
However, Davies turned out to be even more of a hustler than Shaun and was robbing clients of fees while pretending to have won them large settlements.
Shaun was conned into believing that Channel 4 had agreed to pay him £2m. It’s a measure of how deluded he’d become that this figure seemed credible.
The police eventually caught up with Davies and prosecuted him for fraud. But Sir John now feared the lawyer’s trial at Bolton Crown Court was going to expose his secret double life.
Why? Because Shaun had made a witness statement with a copy of the Channel 4 thrashing video attached for good measure.
Sir John now realised his dungeon master had switched the tapes. Nevertheless, in an effort to placate him, he paid Shaun £100,000 in 2016, claiming it was for his retirement fund.
Davies eventually pleaded guilty to 43 fraud offences and was jailed in 2018 for seven years and six months. The jury was none the wiser about the dungeon master and his slave.
The pair continued having sessions at Sir John’s Chelsea flat and also met for lunch and drinks.
The frisson of blackmail that now permeated their master-slave relationship appeared to excite Sir John; something Shaun happily exploited by asking for another £100,000.
In January 2018, Sir John paid him £40,000. Predictably, Shaun threatened to sue for breach of contract if the remainder was not forthcoming.
Again, Sir John, now 81 and with a weak heart, relented. However, this time he decided to end their working relationship but hoped they could remain friends.
Shaun agreed but was jealous when his slave boasted of a replacement dungeon master with a military bearing.
But by summer of 2019, Shaun’s drinking was spiralling and he provocatively uploaded to YouTube the Channel 4 tape of Sir John being thrashed.
The essential trust in his master had gone and Sir John realised he had to cut all ties with Shaun and this time put his dungeon master in a cage. To that end he instructed the now infamous Nigel Tait, managing partner of Carter-Ruck solicitors.
A former tabloid hack turned private investigator was also instructed to meet Shaun. Their secretly recorded conversation over drinks included compromising comments made by the dungeon master which Carter-Ruck used to successfully apply for an injunction.
Shaun told the court he was just out for what he was owed and denied blackmail, daring Sir John to report him to the police.
He never did. And not just to avoid the public humiliation of cross-examination about his political life as a walking security risk.
Sir John’s health had deteriorated. And after securing the injunction, he died on 27 July 2020 in a private hospice.
A neighbour at his Chelsea flat recalled watching a relative remove all traces of the former mandarin’s secret life and drive away.
All that was left on his large desk was a half-eaten box of assorted shortbreads, a wilted orchid and a box of tissues.
This shabby ending to his life was nowhere to be found among the many paragraphs of praise in the obituaries of Sir John Guinness. But still, the question remains: Did he pay hush money to anyone else?
Almost two years on, his will is still in probate with rumours of a dispute. Like the Duke, Sir John may also have left some unwelcome legacy payments to fellow travellers on the dark side of Guinness.
And so it goes.
A version of this article appears in the current edition of The Fence magazine.