Jury told to ignore judge's remarks about witness in Fayed libel trial

THE JURY in the libel action brought by Neil Hamilton against Mohamed Al Fayed retired last night after failing to reach a verdict, having been instructed by the judge to ignore comments he made earlier in his summing up.

Mr Justice Morland, resuming his summing up yesterday, told the jury to "very much disregard" remarks he made on Friday that one of Mr Fayed's key witnesses, his former secretary Iris Bond, had given evidence after taking some form of drug. The judge had said: "There may be nothing in it but it did appear that she might be on tranquillisers or something of that kind."

Yesterday he said: "That was an entirely personal comment and it is one that I suggest you should very much disregard because there is no evidence whatsoever that she had had a tranquilliser, nor was it suggested by Desmond Browne [Mr Hamilton's QC], it was an unjustified comment on my part."

The judge also told the jury that they must ask themselves why Mr Hamilton, the former MP for Tatton, had shown "a lack of candour and told half truths" when questioned at the time of the original allegations by the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, and the Chief Whip, Richard Ryder. He also behaved in a similar fashion with the serving Parliamentary Commissioner, Sir Gordon Downey. The judge said that did not necessarily mean he was guilty of corruption, but the jury should examine his explanations to decide whether his behaviour was a deliberate attempt to conceal discreditable behaviour.

Mr Hamilton is suing Mr Fayed, the owner of Harrods, for libel over allegations that he had accepted thousands of pounds in cash, gifts and free holidays in return for asking parliamentary questions.

Following five hours of deliberation the jury of six women and five men returned to say that they had not reached a decision, at which point they were sent home for the night.

The jury's announcement prompted Christine Hamilton, the wife of the former Conservative minister, to break down in tears, and she had to be comforted by her husband.

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