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Jon Braine reports for BBC News
"It could be another week before we hear from Neil Hamilton himself"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 November, 1999, 18:17 GMT
Al-Fayed 'paid Hamilton for questions'
Peter Preston: "I hadn't realised that sort of thing on this level could happen here"

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston has told a court Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed told him in 1993 he paid MPs - including Neil Hamilton - to lobby for him in Parliament.

Libel Trial
Mr Preston, giving evidence in the libel case brought by the former Tory MP, said he had gone to see the Harrods owner about information he claimed to have about Saudi funding of the Tory party.

During the conversation the name of another Tory MP, Tim Smith, came up and Mr al-Fayed went on to describe how Mr Smith had asked questions and worked for him in the House of Commons.

Mr Preston said Neil Hamilton's name was also mentioned.

He sadi: "I was told Ian Greer had come along and been hired by him (al-Fayed) and provided what seemed to be a repertory company of MPs who would put down Parliamentary questions and lobby on his behalf."


This struck me as larger and more sinister than anything I had come across in my previous career
Peter Preston


Mr Preston said he was told the businessman had seen Mr Hamilton and Mr Smith separately and alone, and "money - cash in hand" had changed hands.

He said: "I was very interested in that story, principally because at that stage it seemed to me I was being told of - conspiracies is the wrong word - but a wider grouping of MPs who could be fielded in the House of Commons."

Mr Preston said he knew there had always been people in every walk of life who would act corruptly, but he was struck by the organisation of what he had heard - rather than the process being left to "individual freelance acts".

Although he did not take notes at that or several subsequent meetings, the former editor said he would jot down a few reminders afterwards in the taxi or standing in the ante-chamber of Harrods.

Mohamed al-Fayed: Denies libel
Mr Preston said: "It struck me as something which in my experience as a journalist was on a scale beyond which I imagined these things could take place.

"I write a lot about American affairs and lobbying and I hadn't realised that that sort of thing on this level could happen here. I thought it was a very important story and should be out in the open because the public needed to know about it."

Mr Hamilton is suing Mr al-Fayed over a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in January 1997.

In the film, he said the one-time Conservative MP for Tatton, Cheshire, 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.

But the Harrods boss denies libel, and pleads justification.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday, when Mr Preston will be cross-examined
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See also:
26 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed cries in court
25 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed's fury over cash withdrawal questions
24 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed 'persecuted Harrods staff'
23 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed 'threatened John Major'
22 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed challenges Duke to sue
24 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed accused of false shipping claims
19 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed fury over death crash remarks
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