Jaguar club split by law of the jungle

THE Jaguar Drivers' Club, one of the motoring world's most respected refuges for car fanatics, is to hire private detectives in a bid to track down the author of a series of poison pen letters.

In the latest twist in a 10-year saga of intrigue and in-fighting, the 12,000-member club has asked lawyers to act over allegations that pounds 131,000 of members' funds has been wasted.

The allegations - disputed by the club - were made in a two-page unsigned letter circulated to senior members several weeks ago in advance of the club's anual meeting on 15 October. It is the latest in a flurry of letters sent anonymously over the past five years. All previous circulars have been ignored, but the club's lawyers said that an agency was likely to be engaged to track down the author of the latest.

Unknown to most motoring enthusiasts, including the majority of its own members, the club has been a hot-bed of political in-fighting for years. Since 1984, there has been the breakaway and formation of another club, the Jaguar Enthusiasts' Club, a series of acrimonious High Court actions and libel suits, and the arrest of a former employee amid allegations of a pounds 100,000 fraud. Criminal charges never materialised, but the employee is still facing a civil action.

When set against the open hostility among senior members of the Jaguar club scene and claims by a number of people that they have been subjected to death threats by unnamed third parties, the poison pen letters appear to reinforce a pattern.

Beginning "The monkeys are running the zoo...", the latest piece of vitriol makes allegations against Graham Marr, the club's chairman for the past decade, directors and advisers.

The club was so incensed by what it considers unfounded slurs that it put the letter in the hands of its solicitor, Nicholas Drukker, with instructions to find the culprit. "We have had a number of these letters, some to members, some to outsiders, and until now no steps have been taken to find the author," said Mr Drukker.

"But this time the club thought enough was enough and measures will be taken to find out who is writing them. They are dripping in libellous remarks."

Mr Drukker is preparing to write to members - including a number of suspects - telling them of the proposed action.

The letter makes three core allegations relating to the alleged wasting of money. The first involves a five-year libel case instigated by Tony Dance, a Scotland-based member who was attacked in the club's magazine, Jaguar Driver.

He was criticised for helping another club organise an event and had his membership rescinded. The letter says he was finally paid pounds 41,000 - a figure confirmed by the club - but it says he would have settled for nothing more than an apology and the return of his membership. It criticises Mr Marr for letting the litigation drag on.

Mr Marr has declined to comment, but the club says it couldn't accept Mr Dance's offer to settle because it was coupled with the condition that he would be allowed to pursue the magazine's former editor, John Owen, separately. The club's heirarchy thought it would be unfair to let Mr Owen stand alone.

The second allegation relates to the installation of a computer system. It claims pounds 25,000 was lost because the system was unsuitable. The club said the problems were caused by a former employee, not by Mr Marr.

The third core criticism relates to the sacking of a former advertising manager who, the letter alleges, took legal action to recover pounds 40,000 in unpaid commission. The club said the manager was paid pounds 23,000.

The Jaguar Drivers' Club (JDC) was formed with Jaguar's support in 1956. A rift developed in 1984 when the Jaguar Enthusiasts' Club (JEC) was formed by disgruntled former officials of the JDC. Anna Dansey, a former board member, resigned, urging Mr Marr to stand down. She was infuriated by an editorial written by him in Jaguar Driver which was to have congratulated the rival JEC on its 10th birthday.

Things went wrong, however, when Mr Marr used the opportunity to allege that Nigel Thorley, a senior JEC member, personally owned it. Mr Thorley does not and issued a writ against the JDC. Jaguar Driver subsequently printed a retraction.

"At a meeting in April, 20 representatives supported my call for Mr Marr to resign," said Mrs Dansey. "Our message to the JEC was meant to be conciliatory but Mr Marr made it offensive. The club needs someone else at the helm."

Mrs Dansey and a number of other members are planning to ask some searching questions at the annual meeting but, according to Mr Drukker, no motions were lodged by the deadlinecalling for Mr Marr to stand down. Nevertheless, Mr Drukker said: "Mr Marr may decide, given the publicity, that someone else should be chairman from now on."

The author of the letter may yet have it their own way.