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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK
Hamiltons sue sex accuser
Neil & Christine Hamilton
The Hamiltons have repeatedly denied the allegations
Former Tory MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine are suing the woman who has accused them of sexual assault for libel.

The couple's solicitor confirmed on Wednesday evening that a High Court writ had been issued against Nadine Milroy-Sloan.

Michael Coleman said the Hamiltons were demanding "appropriate" damages and had obtained a High Court injunction freezing her assets up to 400,000, pending the outcome of legal proceedings.

A lie is a lie from the start and my clients have the immediate right to sue

Michael Coleman,
Hamiltons' solicitor
Mr Coleman admitted it was unusual to sue before police had decided whether anyone should be charged.

But he said: "It may be unusual but the issue of whether she has told a lie or not is not dependent on whether the police prosecute.

"It is dependent on whether what she has said is true or false. A lie is a lie from the start and my clients have the immediate right to sue."

Publicist Max Clifford, of whom Ms Milroy-Sloan is a client, told the BBC she had very few assets, so the action was mainly for "show".

And the BBC's crime correspondent Stephen Cape said it appeared to be the latest move in a high-risk game between accuser and accused.

Ms Milroy-Sloan had made a similarly dramatic move by waiving her right to anonymity, he said.

"It's a game of brinkmanship on both sides, with both trying to prove that what they're saying is absolutely correct."

Legal costs

Ms Milroy-Sloan has accused the Hamiltons of performing indecent acts on her while she was allegedly being raped by another man at a flat in Ilford, Essex, on 5 May.

The couple were arrested on 10 August and released without charge after five hours of questioning.

Our correspondent said the libel action was an interesting move to make, especially considering the couple's financial position and track record in libel cases.

Sunday papers
There are concerns about the amount of publicity surrounding the case
The couple are understood to owe about 3m in legal costs, after losing an appeal against a previous failed action against Harrods owner Mohammed al Fayed - to whom they owe about 1m.

Stephen Cape said the Hamiltons, if they did win the case against Ms Milroy-Sloan, would not get massive sums - and anything they received would go to straight to Mr al Fayed.

He also said it was likely the couple were being bankrolled by some of their wealthy and influential supporters.

'Inept' investigation

The Hamiltons have strenuously denied the allegations, saying they have "cast-iron" alibis for the night in question.

They have demanded that the police drop the investigation and formally clear their names.

On Wednesday evening Mr Coleman criticised the police investigation, which he said had been conducted "ineptly".

Some legal experts have expressed concern that justice could be compromised by the publicity surrounding the case.

But Stephen Cape said the police were taking matters "in their stride" and "methodically" continuing their investigation.

Ms Milroy-Sloan was re-interviewed by police in Essex for six hours on Monday afternoon. Officers said investigations would continue.

The man accused of raping her, Barry Lehaney, 60 - who also strenuously denies the allegations against him - has not yet been charged.

The BBC's John Sudworth
"Mr Hamilton is no stranger to libel action"
The BBC's Stephen Cape
"It is a risky and expensive thing to do"
Publicist Max Clifford
"I'm sure Nadine's lawyer will respond in time"
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