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The BBC's Catherine Marston
Listen to the latest report from the High Court in London
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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 17:46 GMT
Hamilton attacks 'pack of lies'
Neil Hamilton (left) is suing Mohamed al-Fayed

Former minister Neil Hamilton has told the High Court that allegations about him taking cash for asking questions in the House of Commons are a "pack of lies".

Libel Trial
The former Tory MP for Tatton is suing Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed over comments he made in 1997.

Mr Hamilton, questioned by his counsel Desmond Browne, QC, said he had been a "very popular" minister for corporate affairs at the Department of Trade and Industry until the cash for questions allegations first appeared in The Guardian in October 1994.

He said: "I think it's fair to say I had developed a niche for myself and, if it doesn't sound too immodest to say so, I think I had every prospect of political advancement and promotion."

Mr Browne said the article accused Mr Hamilton of receiving cash via parliamentary lobbyist Ian Greer for asking questions in the Commons.

He asked his client: "Was there any truth in it?"

"It was a pack of lies from start to finish," replied Mr Hamilton.

Mr Browne said: "Subsequently, it's been alleged that you received cash direct from Mr al-Fayed at face to face meetings."

"Well, that's a pack of lies too," he said.

"And that at some such meetings - four in all - you received gift vouchers," said his barrister.

"That's a pack of lies too," he added.

'Virtually impossible to find work'

Mr Browne asked if, prior to the 1997 comments, he had ever been publicly accused of receiving cash direct from Mr al-Fayed.

Mr Hamilton said he had not and said it had been "virtually impossible" to find permanent work since losing his seat to Independent candidate Martin Bell at the 1997 general election.

Mr Browne told the jury 1.3 million viewers watched the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, where Mr Al-Fayed's comments appeared, when it was first broadcast, and 331,000 saw the repeat.

Mr Hamilton said he saw the programme with his wife at their London flat.

"It was a deeply unpleasant experience to see claims of that kind broadcast to the entire country - millions of people might have been watching them at the same time - and to know you had no effective means of counteracting them," he said.

'Garbage repeated in the papers'

Mr Hamilton added: "It's not very pleasant to see your wife in a state of distress and extremely upset."

Asked for his reaction to Mr al-Fayed's testimony in court, he said: "Well, of course, it made me extremely angry, but also it's a huge blow to one's self-esteem to know that all this garbage - to use one of his words - is being repeated in this court and reported day after day after day in all the newspapers in this country."

The former minister said the allegation that he may have received up to 110,000 from Mr al-Fayed and through Mr Greer was "extremely outrageous".

Mr Browne: "Mr al-Fayed has said that he is sure it is true that you had rented boys for Ian Greer and that you were a homosexual prostitute. What is the impact on your feelings of these allegations from the witness box?"

I have to endure walking about knowing that in people's minds this is the way they are looking at me and this is the reputation I have acquired
Neil Hamilton

Mr Hamilton replied: "It is deeply offensive and absurd, but nevertheless for all its absurdity it compounds the hurt to our feelings of all the other allegations of corruption that he has made as well."

The former MP is suing Mr al-Fayed over allegations that he corruptly demanded and accepted cash payments, gift vouchers and a free holiday at the Paris Ritz in return for asking questions on behalf of Harrods.

Mr Hamilton first met the Egyptian in March 1986 and he described him as a "highly convivial and interesting man".

He said he sympathised with Mr al-Fayed's plight over the Harrods takeover.

Mr Browne said: "Did you collect any cash from (Mr Fayed's office in) Park Lane at any time?"

"No, and that's an outrageous lie," he said.

Referring to Mr and Mrs Hamilton's visit to the Ritz hotel in Paris in September 1997, Mr Browne said: "What is alleged by Mr al-Fayed is that you took unfair advantage of his hospitality and chose the most expensive items on the menu and drank the most expensive wines, on one occasion I think he said you drank a bottle worth 1,000."

Mr Hamilton denied eating caviar but admitted he may have had lobster.

Mr al-Fayed sticks by his accusations and denies libel on the grounds of justification.

The trial was adjourned until Wednesday.

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See also:
06 Dec 99 |  UK
Hamilton 'asked firm for cash'
29 Nov 99 |  UK
Hamilton took 'wodge' of cash
26 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed cries in court
25 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed's fury over cash withdrawal questions
03 Dec 99 |  UK
Hamiltons' '2000 Ritz extras'
30 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed's ex-secretary 'not lying'
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