`Devious' Hamilton lied to Heseltine and Chief Whip, says Fayed lawyer

NEIL HAMILTON was a "devious liar who weaved a web of obscurity ... and threw dust in the eyes of those who seek to find out the real truth", the jury at his libel action were told yesterday.

The first full day of cross-examination of the former MP for Tatton by George Carman, QC for Mohamed Al Fayed, in the High Court was heavy with tension and acrimony, both men clashing repeatedly.

Mr Carman accused the former Tory minister for Corporate Affairs of lying to the then Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine, Cabinet Secretary Sir Robin Butler, and Conservative Chief Whip Richard Ryder. He was also accused of misleading the Commons, of financial deceit, and of greed during his stay at the Paris Ritz Hotel in 1987.

Mr Hamilton said he objected to the word "greedy". On the Ritz visit, he and his wife Christine ran up bills of pounds 3,570 in six nights. He admitted: "I think we went over the top a bit" and now felt "an element of shame".

Mr Hamilton is suing Mr Al Fayed over claims that he had corruptly demanded and accepted cash payments, gift vouchers and a free holiday at The Ritz in return for asking parliamentary questions on behalf of Harrods. Mr Al Fayed, who made the allegations in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in 1997, denies libel and has pleaded justification.

Mr Carman said Mr Hamilton had specifically and categorically denied to the inquiry by Parliamentary Commissioner, Sir Gordon Downey, that he had vintage champagne in the Ritz visit. But the couple tended to have two bottles every evening - Perrier-Jouet, Pol Roger, Roederer and Bollinger - said the QC.

Mr Carman asked: "Looking back at what you and your wife spent there on a nightly basis, is it unfair to say you were somewhat greedy?" Mr Hamilton said: "Well, obviously I don't like the use of the word "greedy" in this context but we certainly enjoyed very lavish hospitality and a very lavish time. I know this can be presented in a way which is very embarrassing to me but after what we have been through in recent years, one thing you do learn is perhaps a little more humility than you had before."

Mr Carman asked what "humility had to do with greed"? Mr Hamilton said: "I don't think that "greedy" even now is a word I would attach, but I think we went over the top a bit." He and his wife were not proud of the "depredations" into the food and wine at the hotel and agreed he felt "an element of shame".

Earlier Mr Hamilton was accused of taking part in an "elaborate charade" to avoid paying taxes on a commission from lobbyist Ian Greer. The former MP had been offered pounds 4,000 by Mr Greer for introducing his company to the National Nuclear Corporation.

The court was told Mr Hamilton bought a pounds 700 painting, garden furniture worth pounds 959.95 and air fares to New Orleans for himself and his wife, charging the pounds 1,594 total to Mr Greer's firm. Mr Carman said: "You were trying in your mind to avoid that income tax by using this charade to cause him to buy goods for you." Mr Hamilton said: "It wasn't a charade. If it is within the law, I can't see what is improper about it."

In later exchanges Mr Hamilton said: "It is because I was ultra scrupulous that I am in this pickle today." And if he had been corrupt: "I could have had cash by the Harrods' vanload ... and gone to a tax haven.

"But I put my public duty and the Government's image before any possibility of private profit. The reason I'm here today is not because I was corrupt as a minister but because I wasn't."

Acid exchanges continued. At one point Mr Carman asked: "Do you avoid paying attention to anything you find disagreeable?" Mr Hamilton said: "No, I'm playing close attention to you, Mr Carman ... that was just a joke Mr Carman." The QC said: "Not a bad joke."

The case continues.

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