`Guardian' article was `anti-Tory scandal-mongering'

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An article in the Guardian newspaper about the Conservative Party's handling of donations from the fugitive tycoon Asil Nadir constituted "a piece of sensational, anti-Conservative scandal-mongering", a High Court jury was told yesterday.

The story, written by Paul Brown and David Pallister and published in September 1993, alleged staff at Conservative Party Central Office in Smith Square, central London, resorted to "old tricks" to obstruct inquiries by trustees for Mr Nadir's creditors about donations made by him or his companies.

Paul Judge, party director-general, is suing for libel after the front-page claims that investigators felt efforts to obtain details of Mr Nadir's transactions with the party, which might have helped monies to be reclaimed, were being thwarted by "lack of co-operation and inadequate information".

The article suggested Neil Cooper, head of corporate recovery at the accountants Robson Rhodes, and the joint trustee of Mr Nadir's personal bankruptcy, was to give Central Office a final opportunity to provide information voluntarily about the businessman's £440,000 party donations. If not, Mr Judge would be summoned to the High Court where, in a private hearing, he would be obliged to answer questions or face contempt proceedings.

The story further alleged solicitors "had been reduced to delivering copies of letters by hand to Mr Judge at Smith Square with accompanying notes saying - `we hope this does not get lost between the front office and your desk'."

Dismissing the allegations as "a travesty of the truth", David Eady QC, for Mr Judge, said in his opening statement that the trustees had received full and studious co-operationand no threat of legal action had been mentioned, even when his client and MrCooper, of Robson Rhodes, had spoken on the telephone two days before the article appeared.

"Not a single solicitor's letter has ever been sent to Conservative Central Office. Robson Rhodes has never complained about non co-operation or that information was inadequate and incomplete."

Mr Eady added his client had been "fingered as the individual responsible for dirty tricks and obstruction," but not given the opportunity to "point out the obvious errors in the article.

"It's clearly a political motive. They [the defendants] deny that. But the consequence of that strategy is that Mr Judge's personal reputation can be trampled underfoot in the stampede to embarrass the Conservative Party. We suggest you're entitled to fairness, even if you do work for the Conservative Party."

He added: "This is a history of incompetence, compounded by stubborn irresponsibility."

The Guardian is defending the action. The case continues today.

Nolan Committee, page 4