A prosecutor charged yesterday that Jeremy Thorpe, one-time leader of Britain's small Liberal Party, conspired to hire an assassin to murder a former male model whose allegations of a homosexual relationship threatened Thorpe's career.

Thorpe had repeatedly urged the only way to stop the threat effectively was to kill Norman Scott," said prosecuting attorney Peter Taylor.

Taylor outlined the case against Thorpe, 49, and three other defendants at the start of a hearing that brought unusual excitement to Minehead, a quite village of 8,000 residents 168 miles west of London.

The Thorpe trial has become the biggest political scandal in Britain since a pair of prostitutes helped bring down a Conservative government in 1964. Thrope, a dapper aristocrat once hailed as the hope of the faded Liberals, resigned as party leader in 1976 after Scott's allegations became public. He was formally charged last August with conspiring in an unsuccessful assassination attempt.

The three magistrates hearing the case, expected to last two weeks, will decide whether the defendants should stand full jury trial.

The tall, handsome Thorpe, a popular Liberal Party leader for nine years, arrived for the hearing with his second wife, Marion, the former Countess of Harewood.

Taylor spent most of the opening day giving the prosecution's case. He said Thorpe and Scott met in 1961 when Thorpe was "a bachelor aged 32" and Scott a model.

Intimacy took place that year when Thorpe "made advances" in Thorpe's mother's home, Taylor said, adding that the two men shared an apartment in London until 1963.

Scott's subsequent threat to reveal the relationship - one Thorpe denied - became "a continuing danger to Mr. Thorpe's reputation and career," and the politician "became obsessed" with a plot to kill Scott, Taylor said.

The prosecutor said friends of Thorpe tried to get Scott to move to the United States, to set him up in a job, paid him a retainer and purchased "damaging letters." But Taylor charged that when they decided it was impossible to get Scott out of the country, Thorpe said: "Then we have got to get rid of him."

Taylor said that in 1969 Thorpe incited his close friend, David Holmes, 48, a former Liberal Party deputy treasurer, to kill Scott.

Holmes conspired with defendants John Le Meseurier and George Deakin to hire a former airline pilot named Andrew Newton to murder Scott, Taylor alleged, adding that Newton lured Scott to a lonely moorland road on Oct. 24, 1975.

"There Newton produced a gun," Taylor said. "Scott had brought a large dog with him. Newton shot the dog but failed to shoot Scott.

He said Newton's gun had jammed after shooting Scott's Great Dane.

Newton, jailed for unlawful possession of a pistol, was paid $10,000 when he got out of prison and this was "half the agreed price," Taylor said. Newton spilled what Taylor said was the real story to British newspapers and Thorpe resigned as party leader shortly thereafter.

Thorpe studied at Eton and Oxford, the traditional training ground for Britain's establishment. He was elected to Parliament in 1959 and eight years later took over leadership of the Liberal Party.

The once-powerful vehicle of prime ministers such as Gladstone and Lloyd George has been a virtually powerless third party for decades.

Under Thorpe, the Liberals enjoyed new popularity. By 1973 there were only 10 Liberals among 630 members of Parliament, but a public opinion survey showed 29 percent of the electorate favored them compared to 38 percent for the Labor Party and 30.5 percent for the Conservatives.

Thorpe was married in 1968 to Caroline Allpass, who died in a car crash in 1970. In 1973 Thorpe married is current wife, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth.