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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK

UK Politics: Talking Politics

Neil Hamilton - A chronology

Briefing by BBC Research


The Guardian and Mohamed al-Fayed claim that Neil Hamilton acted on behalf of Mr al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, in return for cash - famously stuffed into brown envelopes - and payments in kind (including two free trips to the Paris Ritz, gifts from the store Peter Jones, Harrod's vouchers).

Mr al-Fayed, two members of his staff and one former employee have given sworn affidavits that Mr Hamilton received cash payments.

Mr Hamilton does not admit to taking cash. He does admit to:

  • tabling questions in Parliament
  • tabling and/or signing Early Day Motions
  • writing letters to and attending meetings with ministers
  • writing letters to other people and outside bodies.

20 October 1994

The Guardian publishes article claiming Mr Hamilton received thousands of pounds for tabling parliamentary questions on behalf of Mr al-Fayed.

Ian Greer, as head of the lobbyists, Ian Greer Associates, was said to be the middleman in the transactions.

Mr Hamilton issues writ for libel against The Guardian.

David Willetts, then a government whip, jots memo outlining options on how Members' Interests Committee could deal with allegations against Mr Hamilton (Willetts is later accused by the new Committee on Standards and Privileges of "dissembling".)

25 October 1994

Mr Hamilton is forced to resign as Corporate Affairs Minister after the prime minister, John Major, acknowledges that, following allegations against him, he could not properly carry out his responsibilities.

The Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life is set up.

22 November 1994

Members' Interests Committee consider complaint from Alex Carlile MP concerning allegations that Mr Hamilton took cash for questions and failed to declare stays at the Ritz hotel, owned by Mr al-Fayed.

8 June 1995

The Conservative-dominated Members' Interest Committee concludes Mr Hamilton was "imprudent" not to have registered stay at Ritz but takes no further action.

Conservative Members of the committee earlier argued that the inquiry could not be extended because of pending libel case.

15 November 1995

Sir Gordon Downey takes up appointment as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards serving the newly-formed Committee for Standards and Privileges.

4 July 1996

Defamation Bill - altering 300-year-old Bill of Rights by allowing an MP to waive his Parliamentary privilege - gains Royal Assent. Mr Hamilton can now give evidence in court on statements he made in Commons.

30 September 1996

Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer drop libel suit against The Guardian, agreeing to pay 7,500 each towards paper's legal costs. Now that there is no libel action pending, this prompts Sir Gordon Downey's inquiry into the Hamilton cash-for-questions saga.

Libel case is dropped following exposure that Mr Hamilton, as a junior Trade Minister, told his boss, Michael Heseltine, that he did not have a financial relationship with Mr Greer, although he had received two 5,000 commission payments for the introduction of new business.

This led to a "conflict of interests" between Mr Greer and Mr Hamilton which meant that they required two separate lawyers - which they could not afford, thus having to drop the case.

3 October 1996

Prime minister John Major announces he will send all 'cash for questions' evidence to Sir Gordon Downey to consider.

3 July 1997

Standards and Privileges Committee publishes Sir Gordon Downey's report into the 'cash-for-questions' allegations, formally known as "Complaints from Mr Mohamed al-Fayed, The Guardian and others against 25 Members and former Members". The evidence that Hamilton took cash from Mr al-Fayed for asking questions was said to be "compelling".

Sir Gordon had exonerated 15 MPs and former MPs in an interim report published on 20 March 1997.

16 July 1997

Mr Hamilton submits written denial to Standards and Privileges Committee, claiming that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and that Sir Gordon Downey's procedures did not constitute a fair trial.

"The evidence upon which Sir Gordon's conclusion is based is almost entirely inadmissible, circumstantial or not independently corroborated," he is quoted as saying in The Times the next day.

14 October 1997

The Standards and Privileges Committee agreed to Mr Hamilton's request to hear his evidence under oath. He could face trial for perjury if the Committee decides that Me Hamilton is lying under oath.

This will supplement the 37-page submission that he already gave to the Committee in response to Sir Gordon Downey's "compelling evidence" that Mr Hamilton took cash in return for asking questions for Mr al-Fayed.

In his hearing, Mr Hamilton accused Mr al-Fayed of breaking into the Harrod's safe-deposit box of Tiny Rowland the chairman of Lonrho who he defeated in a battle for control of Harrods in the 1980s. The allegations were made by Bob Loftus, the former security detective of the store in a statement to Mr Hamilton's lawyers. He said that a locksmith was employed to break into Mr Rowland's box and that the box was sent up to Mr al-Fayed's office where documents were copied.

Mr Hamilton argues that this claim discredits Mr al-Fayed and the three members of his staff who are witnesses to the story that Mr Hamilton received cash in brown envelopes.

Mr al-Fayed's spokesman Michael Cole rejected the claims, describing Mr Loftus as a "disgruntled former employee".

Mr Rowland confirmed that he had complained to the police, claiming that items of value had gone missing from his safety box.

4 November 1997

The Standards and Privileges Committee meet to consider the three volume report from the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, Sir Gordon Downey, on 'Cash for Questions' concerning Neil Hamilton.

6 November 1997

Standards and Privileges Committee published its final report into the 'Cash-for-Questions' saga (Eighth Report), this is the "Second Further Report: Mr Neil Hamilton." The Committee only partially endorsed Sir Gordon Downey's findings, although the report did amount to the most serious indictment of an MP in recent time.

However, it refused to back Sir Gordon's central allegation of "compelling evidence" that Mr Hamilton took up to 25,000 directly from Mr al-Fayed.

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