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22 Jun 1999 : Column 1080

NORTHERN IRELAND GRAND COMMITTEE

Ordered,


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Metropolitan Police

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

12.8 am

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): In this debate I intend to question the accountability of the Metropolitan police over their arrest of Mohamed Al Fayed last year. I shall also question the accountability of the security services, which influenced the decision to arrest him because he had openly challenged their role over the death of his son in Paris. I shall also touch in passing on his citizenship application, but only in so far as it is linked to the arrest.

The subject is highly controversial. I hope that the Minister will allow me to take a few moments to place my involvement in context and explain how I came to write to Sir Paul Condon about these matters last year. I have already referred a Home Office official to my letter to Sir Paul and I apologise to the Minister if that did not filter through to her.

On 4 June 1997, I introduced an Adjournment debate on the unfairness of Department of Trade and Industry inquiries. One of the case studies that I used to demonstrate the inequities of the system was the House of Fraser inquiry. I said that the inspectors' investigation into the House of Fraser takeover had been so contaminated by the late "Tiny" Rowland's lies and interference that the Fayed brothers had been well and truly stitched up. The interests that I declared in that debate apply here.

After the debate, the Home Office decided to drop its previous objections to the Fayeds which arose directly from the discredited House of Fraser report, but not before I had taken the opportunity to impress on Ministers and officials the depth and extent of Rowland's corrupt influence. After the debate, Mohamed Al Fayed asked to meet me at the House of Commons, and protested about Rowland's malign influence. I then presented my own analysis of various facets of the Fayeds' citizenship case at a private meeting with the Home Secretary at Queen Anne's gate.

Thereafter, I began a voluntary intermediary role between the Home Office and Al Fayed and his lawyers--mainly, but as it turned out not exclusively, concerned with the DTI inquiry. This ended when the Home Secretary approved Ali Fayed's citizenship application, having set aside the DTI findings, but refused Mohamed Al Fayed. Throughout the exercise I reported my meetings and correspondence to Sir Gordon Downey and then to Ms Filkin and briefed parliamentary colleagues and Lobby journalists whenever they expressed an interest.

Having been directly involved in the Home Office's earlier consideration of the applications, I was not in a position to make my own recommendations. At no stage did I try to lobby anyone, as the Home Office will confirm, but I will tell the House what I told the Home Secretary privately after he announced his decision. I said that, whereas I could not comment on his interpretation of the cash-for-questions issue, I disagreed most emphatically with his eleventh hour objection to Al Fayed's alleged lack of probity over Rowland's vicious little scam involving stolen gems that never were in a safety deposit box. It is Rowland's safety deposit

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box snare and the subsequent behaviour of a few senior Metropolitan police officers who engineered the deliberately public arrest of Al Fayed, prompting a jamboree of media speculation and hostility that I wish to address first, as it raises clear questions of accountability.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Wardle: No. I have no intention of giving way, as my hon. Friend did not approach me beforehand.

Well before that arrest was made, those senior police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service had in their possession clear evidence that Rowland had paid hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Jersey bank account of the key prosecution witness and his common-law wife, but the police refused to consider that evidence until after the extremely damaging and high-profile arrest of Al Fayed. Shortly before he died, Rowland admitted his covert payments to the key witness in the discovery process for the civil action that he began after the police case collapsed.

Al Fayed's counsel, a former first Treasury counsel who regularly prosecuted for the Crown, insisted that the payments should first be investigated, on the ground that, if there had been payments, they would jeopardise the entire validity of the prosecution and no arrest should properly be made. Burton Copeland, Al Fayed's solicitor, showed Scotland Yard that Rowland's allegations that valuables had been stolen from his deposit box were weak in the extreme. Rowland was unable to verify that he had ever owned what he claimed to be stolen--let alone that he had placed it in the box 30 years earlier. Burton Copeland gave Scotland Yard the details of Rowland's payments to Robert Loftus, a disaffected ex-employee of Harrods, but the police deferred the investigation of payments to Loftus, arrested Al Fayed and released him on bail which was periodically renewed amid frenzied media speculation.

The safety deposit box scam developed into a tributary inquiry of my intermediary role. I am a lifelong admirer of the police and I was proud to assume responsibility in the House of Commons for police business as a Home Office Minister, but the blatantly unfair conduct of the safety deposit box inquiry prompted me to speak to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and to write to him on 27 February last year in the following terms:


Hence this debate.

Why did the police, who had done little or nothing about Rowland's patently false allegation from May to November 1997, suddenly acquire fresh enthusiasm for the case at the end of that year? Why did they arrest Al Fayed with a prior tip-off to the media in March 1998, despite having known for weeks about the bribery of the key witness, to which Rowland himself later admitted?

Burton Copeland voiced the same concern in a letter of 5 May 1999 to Assistant Commissioner Veness, who was in charge of the case. He wrote:


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    that Rowland was secretly paying vast sums of money to Loftus. . . . Having been put on notice, as your officers were, for them to ignore the material and its potential ramifications and to proceed with arrests and interviews would in any case, I submit, be perverse and unreasonable, let alone in a case of such obvious sensitivity with such a dubious backdrop. My clients might be forgiven for thinking that the prime objective was to put them, and Mr. Al Fayed in particular, through the indignity and public humiliation of arrest. "

Significantly, Al Fayed's solicitors now have in their possession a note from Rowland's solicitors, Cameron Markby Hewitt, reporting that Rowland told them on 2 February 1996 that he had been involved in activities for MI6 immediately after the war and had committed various unlawful acts.

The Scotland Yard and Home Office grapevine--which no one in Whitehall will discount--makes no secret of one interpretation of events. It is that Al Fayed had incurred the wrath of the Security Service, and its stringers in the press and elsewhere, after the tragic deaths in August 1997 of Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Fayed and their chauffeur Henri Paul. Al Fayed had given offence by his increasingly vocal protest that the Security Service--with which Veness has liaison responsibility at Scotland Yard--had not been sufficiently open about its activities in Paris when the tragedy occurred. The grapevine quotes a top police officer as saying:


Eventually, the Metropolitan police admitted to Al Fayed's solicitors that the only offence they could find had been criminal damage to a paperclip. Bail was lifted and proceedings dropped, but the media humiliation had served its purpose. The press hatred and dishonesty had known no bounds. It had been open season for the media, thanks to Rowland's lies in the DTI inquiry and then the safety deposit box scam leading to Al Fayed's arrest.

The Home Office official in charge of the Fayed citizenship applications, Andrew Walmesley, said that he had followed the safety deposit box saga and, in the end, had discounted it. On the telephone last October, he told Al Fayed's citizenship solicitors D.J. Freeman that the criminal investigation and civil proceedings were no longer of concern. Yet when the citizenship file came before the Home Secretary this year, the safety deposit box incident--disregarded by Walmesley--re-emerged as a question of probity. That was particularly surprising in view of Christopher Carr QC's demolition of the probity argument in the re-submission to the Home Office.

It was as if the dropping of the discredited DTI report as evidence against Al Fayed had to be balanced by the late inclusion of the safety deposit box affair--a second barrel, along with the debatable objection to cash for questions, with which to shoot down the application. After a delay of 15 months, the Home Secretary had complied with Lord Woolf's Appeal Court ruling that reason for refusal be given by declaring that the safety deposit box was such a reason.

Whether that would have seemed to the Home Secretary a really convincing reason had it not been for Al Fayed's arrest and prolonged bail and the media onslaught is an interesting question. If the alleged want of probity marked another reason for refusal--namely, the antipathy of the Security Service and others towards Al Fayed--the Home Secretary should have said so openly if he was not to fall foul of Lord Justice Woolf. However, that is a question for the courts, and not for me.

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The accountability of the Metropolitan police for their perverse conduct of the criminal investigation should be a matter of concern to this House. There are other sources of information that indicate a cover-up of events before and after the Paris tragedy that raise questions of accountability for the Security Service as well.

I do not subscribe to conspiracy theories. I draw no conclusions about what happened on that fateful day. I have no inclination to question the conduct or anticipate the outcome of a French judicial inquiry into a car crash in France. Judge Stephan has proved to be more than a match for the British press by declaring that the Mercedes was travelling at 62 mph, and not 113 mph as was previously reported as fact in Britain. It is possible, but not certain, that the judge will admit fresh evidence that throws doubt on Henri Paul's blood test. It is not known whether the final report, which is likely to be published in the early autumn, will be detailed or not.

It is surely inconceivable that once the French report has been produced, there will not be an opportunity in this country as well to explore questions about the circumstances leading to the sudden and violent death of the Princess of Wales and the man the entire world could see was her lover. The overwhelming public response at Diana's funeral could leave no doubt about the natural justice of allowing some form of British inquiry. The hostile response from some quarters to awkward questions about the Paris tragedy can never put the lid on worldwide demands for a thorough explanation of events.

It would be better for Parliament to treat with the questions and deliver the answers than to allow suspicion to fester and speculation to grow. It is in this context that other sources of information should be considered, in so far as they throw light on accountability.

The first of these additional sources which challenge Security Service accountability was the Princess herself. As with the other sources that I shall list, there have been those who devalue what she had to say. Her detractors have already called her manipulative and obsessive, but it would be unwise to dismiss what she said on holiday in the south of France.

I told the Home Secretary in my letter of 23 July last year that Al Fayed's much-publicised ideas about a conspiracy in Paris originated from what Diana repeatedly said to him of her fear and resentment at the way she was treated. I have no reason to doubt what I have heard of what Diana said in St. Tropez. In any case, there are many others in whom she confided in a similar vein--for example, Andrew Morton, Martin Bashir, Maggie Rae, Debbie Frank and so on.

Diana's remarks to Al Fayed concerned the royal household's antipathy to her; its habitually close links with the security services; the manipulation, interference and control, as she saw it, exercised by officials of the household; her conviction, based on what she said that she had been told, that Barry Mannakee's death was not an accident; and her apprehension that she, too, would be assassinated.

Three other sources of information could easily be discredited as disreputable, unreliable witnesses, but it may be short-sighted to ignore what they have to say, because they cast doubt on key questions of accountability. One is James Hewitt, in a recorded, but not televised, interview with Nick Owen. Major Hewitt's

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shabby reputation will count against him but his remarks relating to the Princess of Wales cannot be dismissed altogether.

Hewitt said that he received threats to his life. Patrick Jephson, a private secretary, said that his safety could not be guaranteed. Members of the household told him that his safety would be in peril if he did not back off. Anonymous telephone calls warned him that he would meet the same fate as Barry Mannakee. He said that the Princess of Wales took the threats seriously and told him that Mannakee had been murdered.

Another such source is David Shayler, also in recorded but not televised remarks to Nick Owen. He said that Henri Paul could well have been a paid agent and that assassination attempts were certainly made by the security services. He said that MI6 is less accountable, with less supervision, than MI5, operating abroad with very different personnel from those who work for MI5; that MI6 regularly uses journalists and photographers as agents or stringers; and that MI6 operations and plans are by no means always communicated to Ministers--not even the Prime Minister.

Finally, and most controversially, there is Richard Tomlinson, a fugitive from Britain. I know little about his dispute with the security services but I have seen his sworn affidavit to Judge Stephan's inquiry in Paris, in which he asserted that MI6 files recorded an informant at the Ritz, almost certainly Henri Paul. He named--I shall not--two experienced, undeclared MI6 officers in Paris at the time of the crash. He also named an MI6 officer who in 1992 had a fully typed plan attached to a yellow minute board outlining a plan to kill Slobodan Milosevic in a tunnel car crash. The document was circulated to four other MI6 officers whom he named, but I shall not.

Tomlinson said that MI6 used part-time agents from UKN for surveillance and photography, including paparazzi who routinely followed the princess. He said that as well as routine MI6-royal household contact via the Foreign Office there was regular unofficial direct contact between senior MI6 officers and the household.

If there is to be clear accountability, there are many questions to be answered. For example, what prompted Scotland Yard to arrange the much-publicised arrest of Al Fayed when it already knew that Rowland had bribed the key witness? Did Veness discuss the safety deposit box allegations with the security services? Have the security services recorded with the Home Office an opinion about Al Fayed' s citizenship re-submission? If so, what did they say and when? Has the royal household ever expressed a view to the Home Office about Al Fayed's citizenship?

Do records exist of the royal household's communications with the security services relating to the Paris tragedy? Why was Mannakee transferred out of royal protection duty and what is known about the circumstances of his death? Which members of the royal household made threats to Hewitt? What reasons does Jephson give for his advice to Hewitt? Was Henri Paul employed by MI6? Are there assassination plans on file at MI6?

To whom and to what extent does MI6 account for its operations? What were the operational duties of the undeclared MI6 officers in Paris at the time of the tragedy? Were any of the paparazzi pursuing the Mercedes employed by MI6? What records of telephone

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messages, telegrams and memorandums exist on MI6 files concerning the events before and immediately after the Paris tragedy?

There are a great many more pertinent questions that should be dealt with openly and frankly in some form of parliamentary inquiry, to be conducted either by the Intelligence and Security Committee or by a special Select Committee appointed for the purpose.

There will be people who will try to rubbish as unreliable the sources of information that I have disclosed to the House, but if the Government or Parliament itself do not launch an inquiry, they will be shutting the door on precisely the sort of openness about the security services already advocated by the Liaison Committee and now being recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, and making a mockery of the Government's enthusiasm for freedom of information. Worse still, if an inquiry is refused and factual evidence implicating the security services in any way in the Paris tragedy trickles out later, the House will be seen to have failed in its responsibilities.


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