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Monday, 11 December, 2000, 13:14 GMT
Hamilton challenges libel defeat

Neil Hamilton faced financial ruin after libel case defeat
The behaviour of Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed during former minister Neil Hamilton's cash-for-questions libel defeat invalidated the trial, the Court of Appeal has been told.

An attempt to set aside last year's verdict, which saw the former Conservative MP for Tatton, Mr Hamilton, lose his libel case, got under way on Monday.

Mr Hamilton had sued over claims by Mr al-Fayed in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme three years ago that he had corruptly demanded and accepted cash payments, gift vouchers and a free holiday at the Paris Ritz in return for asking parliamentary questions on behalf of Harrods.

But a High Court jury dismissed this claim and ordered him to pay Mr al-Fayed's legal costs.

The former MP and his wife Christine were in court on Monday to hear their lawyer Anthony Boswood QC seek permission to bring an appeal against this decision. Mr al-Fayed was absent.

The book of bad things people have said about Mr al-Fayed is a weighty volume and it's hardly necessary for me to add to its pages.

Anthony Boswood QC

Mr Hamilton, who dismissed the allegations as a pack of lies, faced financial ruin at the end of the case last year with an estimated 2m costs bill.

Mr al-Fayed is expected to face questioning from Mr Hamilton's lawyers over allegations he was involved in paying 10,000 for stolen legal documents, taken from rubbish bags outside the chambers of Mr Hamilton's counsel, Desmond Browne QC.

Mohammed al-Fayed's actions under scrutiny
Mr Boswood submitted that if the trial judge, Mr Justice Morland, had been told of the evidence, he would in all probability have discharged the jury, investigated the matter, and struck out Mr al-Fayed's case.

Even if the trial had continued, Mr al-Fayed's credibility would have been "truly destroyed at the very outset".

Mr Boswood told the court the verdict had brought personal ruin to Mr Hamilton, but he added: "As you know, facts have now come to light which cast grave, and we say very possibly fatal - because unresolvable - doubt on the fairness of the trial and therefore on the validity of the jury's verdict and the judge's order."

Mr Boswood said there was "cogent and compelling evidence" that highly confidential privileged documents were obtained by Benjamin Pell from Mr Browne's chambers and given to a freelance journalist, Mark Hollingsworth.

Mr Boswood claimed Mr al-Fayed and his head of security, John Macnamara, had engaged Mr Hollingsworth to help in the litigation - apparently unbeknown to his own legal team.

Mr Hollingsworth was paid 10,000 in cash with the promise of a further 10,000 to come, he told the court. He said Mr al-Fayed must have known this had happened.

He said: "The book of bad things people have said about Mr al-Fayed is a weighty volume and it's hardly necessary for me to add to its pages.

"It's sufficient to say that the scale of his misconduct in the litigation is such as to entirely fulfil expectations that his reputation would cause one to entertain."

He disputed the claim that Mr Hamilton would inevitably have lost the action anyway because the outcome did not turn on anything said by Mr al-Fayed - but on the corroborative evidence of others and on the allegation that Mr Hamilton had corruptly demanded a payment from Mobil for tabling an amendment.

He said the evidence of the corroborative witnesses would have been devalued if it was known about the stolen documents and it was "nonsense" to suggest the Mobil allegation was so overwhelmingly strong.

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday when Mr al-Fayed's counsel, Michael Beloff QC, will make his submission.

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