Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report



The Guardian Journalists' Interview with Mr Hamilton in 1993

  518. A further serious attack, amongst many others in their submission to the inquiry, was made by The Guardian on Mr Hamilton's credibility. This related to the assertion in his submission[234] (and, according to The Guardian, on previous occasions) that the allegations of cash payments to him by Mr Al Fayed were never put to him by the two Guardian journalists, Mr Hencke and Mr Mullin in July 1993, when they were following up Mr Al Fayed's exchanges with the editor of The Guardian concerning Mr Smith and Mr Hamilton in June of that year.

  519. Mr Hamilton claimed that the reason for this failure on their part was either that Mr Al Fayed had not at that stage linked Mr Hamilton with Mr Smith as far as cash payments were concerned, or, alternatively, that Mr Al Fayed had made the allegation to Mr Preston, at their earlier meeting, and that Mr Preston had found it so incredible that he had not thought it worthwhile asking Mr Hencke and Mr Mullin to follow it up.

  520. In his submission,[235] Mr Hamilton stated: "I categorically deny that Hencke or Mullin put to me any allegation of receiving cash from Greer or Fayed for PQs, still less that the figure of £2,000 a time was mentioned. The first I heard of this allegation was when I read it in The Guardian on 20 October 1994".

  521. Later in his submission Mr Hamilton accused Mr Hencke of a "direct lie" in claiming to have put the cash payments allegation to him in 1993.

  522. In rebutting Mr Hamilton's denial, The Guardian adduced four separate items of evidence. These were:

    -    a shorthand note of the conversation with Mr Hamilton made by Mr Mullin immediately after leaving the interview, the last paragraph of which, as transcribed, read "never received any payment other than those declared in the Register of Members' Interests". (The Guardian claimed, incidentally, that this statement in itself constituted an untruth given the two unregistered commission payments to Mr Hamilton from Mr Greer);

    -    a note keyed into Mr Mullin's computer on his return to the office after the meeting with Mr Hamilton. This note, referring first to one of the questions put to Mr Smith, said "Q: £2,000 inb [sic] a brown envelope?" "That's certainly not true"; and later, referring to the interview with Mr Hamilton, the following passage occurred "Asked about the brown paper bag, he was by this stagd [sic] somewhat agitated and began his increasing level of threats about Peter Carter-Ruck";[236]

      -  Mr Hencke's written statement for the libel trial, which contained the following extract: "I asked Hamilton formally about the allegations that he had accepted payments from Mohamed Al Fayed and that these consisted of £2,000 per question, paid in cash. He denied that this was the case ....";

    -    a separate extract from Mr Hencke's written statement, in which he said: "We [he and Mr Mullin] then confronted [Mr Hamilton] with the cash for questions allegation. Either John or I directly asked him: `Have you received any cash from Mohamed Al Fayed in return for asking questions in the House on his behalf?' I also recollect that we mentioned the figure of £2,000 per question asked. Neil Hamilton denied the allegation".

  523. Although Mr Preston did not make a note of his meetings with Mr Al Fayed at which the claims concerning Mr Smith and Mr Hamilton were made, he was categoric in denying that the accusation against Mr Hamilton concerned only the Ritz stay. As he put it in his oral evidence:[237] "Totally, totally not so. The allegations were only different in regard to Mr Hamilton [ie. compared with Mr Smith] because there was the further allegation about the Ritz hotel bills, for which there was some documentary proof".

  524. In a letter dated 11 March 1997[238] Mr Hamilton contested the reliability of the documentary evidence produced by The Guardian to support their account of the interview between Mr Hamilton, Mr Hencke and Mr Mullin. Mr Hamilton described Mr Mullin's record of the conversation as "a few scrappy notes" which were "just his recollections" and could not be taken to be an accurate account of a meeting lasting "an hour or more". Mr Hamilton added that if any allegation of cash payments to him by Mr Al Fayed had been made by The Guardian journalists he would "hardly have neglected to include it in his letter of 1 October 1993 to Mr Preston".[239]

  525. Mr Hamilton also drew on a document, obtained from The Guardian under the discovery process, entitled "rough draft". This appeared to be a note to Mr Al Fayed produced shortly before The Guardian story was published on 20 October 1994 and designed to give him some preliminary idea of the way in which The Guardian intended to publicise the allegations and the possible hostile reactions the story would generate. Mr Hamilton originally attributed this note to Mr Hencke, but he now accepts that it was written by Mr Preston.

  526. Mr Hamilton saw this document as damaging to Mr Preston on two counts:

    -    it contained the following passage: "The crux, as you'll see, is your admission that you paid Hamilton (and Smith). Without that fact, the story is inevitably weaker - because nothing in the paperwork proves that Hamilton was doing any of this for money". Mr Hamilton argued that this last sentence demonstrated The Guardian's own lack of faith in the credibility of the allegations;

    -    it concluded with the sentence "I've made up the sort of statement from you I think to be both true and likeliest to defuse any subsequent criticism". This, in Hamilton's view, showed Mr Preston cynically manufacturing a version of events to put into Mr Al Fayed's mouth.

  527. The Guardian responded to these points in the following fashion:

    -    that the reference to a lack of documentary corroboration for the allegation related to the position in late September or early October 1994, and that in the ensuing three weeks leading up to the publication of the article on 20 October a "snowstorm"[240] of paperwork emerged in the form of letters and other evidence which buttressed the case against Mr Hamilton;

    -    that the phrase "made up a statement" was an unfortunate use of language which, however, plainly did not bear the dishonest connotation ascribed to it by Mr Hamilton since it was immediately followed by the words "I think to be both true[241] and ...";

    -    that so far from undermining Mr Preston's credibility the "rough draft" document strengthened it, since it confirmed that Mr Al Fayed was already, in late 1994, including Mr Hamilton with Mr Smith in the allegations concerning cash payments.

234  See Appendix 33, paras 188-199. Back

235  See Appendix 33. Back

236  The senior partner of Carter-Ruck, solicitors. Back

237  Q 827 Back

238  See Appendix 38. Back

239  See paras 509-10. Back

240  Q 854. Back

241  Emphasis added. Back

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Prepared 8 July 1997