Election '97: Hamilton strikes at Bell with help of fax machine

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The Independent Online
The battle between Neil Hamilton and his rival for the Cheshire seat of Tatton, Martin Bell, has moved from the heath to the fax machine with Mr Bell's campaign team accusing Mr Hamilton of conducting a "campaign by fax", and "deluging" them with legal threats and complaints.

Since Mr Bell's first attempt to put forward his nomination papers last week, Mr Hamilton and his agent, Peter McDowell, have issued legal threats both in person and via Mr Hamilton's solicitors, Crockers. They have also made numerous complaints about his campaign - including the "over-enthusiastic" siting of Mr Bell's posters.

"They're trying to demoralise us," said a spokesman for Mr Bell's office. "It's all done as a distraction because they know that our campaign has been set up from scratch. We've had to respond to everything."

Mr Bell was last week forced to re-submit his election nomination following a legal threat over his use of the term "anti-corruption" to describe himself. Mr Hamilton then complained about Mr Bell's use of the word "independent", but this was dismissed by Macclesfield's acting returning officer.

A letter received soon after from Mr Hamilton's solicitors threatens further action over Mr Bell's campaign statement. "The remark that you will 'do all [you] can to remove the stain of corruption from public life' ... is a clear accusation that Mr Hamilton is corrupt, an accusation the gravity of which is re-doubled in the context of an election campaign," the letter says. It concludes: "Our client reserves his right to commence proceedings against you claiming damages for libel following the publication of the report by Sir Gordon Downey. If, as is confidently expected, the report clears our client of the charges of corruption, the damages he will be seeking will be very substantial indeed."

Mr Hamilton himself sent one three-page letter to Mr Bell accusing him of breaking his word not to describe himself as an "anti-corruption" candidate and to run a "decent and dignified" campaign. He adds: "Will you accept that your own role in this election is but an extension of The Guardian's campaign against me?"

Letters from Mr McDowell, Mr Hamilton's agent, suggest that one way or another, the Battle of Knutsford Heath is not yet over. He has complained that Mr Bell's supporters are being "over-enthusiastic" in putting up posters for their man. "I think you should know that Knutsford's large and little Heath's [sic] are private property, owned by Randall Brooks," Mr McDowell states in one.

"Randall has given me permission for 'Hamilton' posters. He will definitely not be allowing 'Bell' posters."