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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 21:53 GMT
Al-Fayed 'persecuted Harrods staff'
Mr al-Fayed was greeted at the court by mystery demonstrators "celebrating life"

Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed "vindictively hunted" members of staff he didn't get on with, the High Court has been hearing in the libel case brought by Neil Hamilton.

Mr Hamilton's QC, Desmond Browne, told the judge and jury that Mr al-Fayed had threatened staff, brought trumped up criminal charges and bugged private phone lines.

Libel Trial
Mr Hamilton is suing Mr al-Fayed over a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in January 1997 in which he claimed that the MP had 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.

Mr al-Fayed, who denies libel, has said in evidence that Mr Hamilton received around 50,000 from him through a political lobbyist and direct cash sums of between 40,000 and 60,000.

'Phone calls bugged'

In court on Wednesday, Mr Browne said that in April 1991, Mr al-Fayed's "secret service" had taped a call to the Park Lane flat of Harrods deputy chairman, Christopher Betterman.

Mr al-Fayed said he had nothing to do with that and also denied that he told Mr Betterman that he would "destroy" him if he left Harrods.

When Mr Betterman did leave Harrods, Mr Browne said, Mr al-Fayed made charges of embezzlement against him.

These resulted in him being prosecuted in Dubai and appearing in court 24 times before the case was dismissed in 1993.

Mr Browne said when Mr Betterman returned to the UK he started libel proceedings against Mr al-Fayed, who later withdrew the "crook" allegations and paid his former employee substantial damages.

Al-Fayed 'interfered'

Another member of staff who Mr al-Fayed allegedly "hunted" was Peter Bollinger, the managing director of Harrods.

He resigned in 1994 because he was fed up with Mr al-Fayed interfering, Mr Browne told the jury, adding that a subsequent interview Mr Bollinger gave to the press triggered a series of "vindictive actions" by Mr al-Fayed.

Mr Browne alleged that Mr al-Fayed told the media Mr Bollinger had been fired for incompetence and dereliction of duty.

The prosecuting QC also said the Harrods boss was behind a false accusation of criminal dishonesty made to Chelsea police.

Mr al-Fayed, it was alleged, was also behind a High Court order freezing Mr Bollinger's assets.

The Egyptian businessman said there was a possiblity that his security and personnel departments had discovered dishonesty.

He could not comment on Mr Browne's claim that the order was later discharged and that Harrods had paid Mr Bollinger 45,000.

Airport arrest

It was also alleged in the High Court on Wednesday that a baseless allegation of criminal dishonesty was made to the police about Graham Jones, Harrod's director of corporate strategy and planning.

Mr Jones left the company in January 1990 and Mr Browne suggested that Mr al-Fayed had made a charge of criminal dishonesty against him.

As a result, it is alleged, Mr Jones was arrested at Heathrow in June 1990 just as he was about to board a flight for Syndey.

Mr Browne said to Mr al-Fayed: "Are you aware that the police never pursued the matter after arresting him?"

Mr al-Fayed replied: "I can't remember."

Nightime arrest

The fourth member of Harrods staff Mr al-Fayed has been accused of persecuting is Sandra Glass, the letting agent employed by Hyde Park Residence (HPR), a company owned by the Harrods boss.

Desmond Browne QC, said Mr al-Fayed had lodged a "bogus complaint" about Ms Glass stealing two floppy discs because he believed she was about to reveal details of a business rate scam by HPR.

Ms Glass was arrested at home in the evening, locked in a cell until 3am and finally released without charge.

Mr Browne said that in August 1996, an industrial tribunal ordered Harrods to pay Ms Glass 13,500 in compensation.

Mr al-Fayed replied: "I have no knowledge about that. I have thousands of people working for me."

The hearing was adjourned until Thursday
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See also:
23 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed 'threatened John Major'
19 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed fury over death crash remarks
22 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed challenges Duke to sue
24 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed accused of false shipping claims
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