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Malicious sister tried to destroy MP, court told

Libel trial: 'Newspaper allegations about holiday at homosexual love-nest were part of campaign aimed at forcing resignation'

The embittered sister of a Tory MP mounted a campaign to force his resignation by accusing him of having a homosexual affair, a jury was told yesterday.

In a series of telephone calls and taped conversations, Lynne Garling, sister of David Ashby, the MP for Leicestershire North West, passed information seeking to expose him in an article in the Sunday Times, the High Court was told.

However, in telephone conversations with Mr Ashby's wife, Silvana, from whom he was separated when the article appeared last year, Mrs Garling swore that she had not been the source of the information.

Geoffrey Shaw QC, for Mr Ashby, told the court that just before the article was published on 16 January, his client had told a Sunday Times reporter that his sister was "a vicious, sick woman motivated solely by malice" and was out to destroy him.

Mr Ashby, 55, who has been an MP since 1983, is suing the newspaper for libel over the article which he says makes him out to be a "homosexual, liar and hypocrite".

Times Newspapers and Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, deny libel, saying that Mr Ashby was conducting a homosexual relationship with Dr Carian Kilduff.

The article said Mr Ashby and an unnamed man spent a night in November, 1993 at a hotel in Goa which was a "love nest that asked few questions about its guests". Mr Shaw said it was true that his client had spent a night at the hotel, but he had been alone and had not spent it with a male friend.

The information about the holiday had come from Mrs Garling and her husband, Victor, in a series of anonymous telephone calls, said Mr Shaw.

The newspaper had earlier published another story, not the subject of the action, also on the basis of an anonymous tip, saying Mrs Ashby, 53, had been furious because the couple had split up when he left her for another man. Mrs Ashby confronted Mrs Garling asking if she had provided the material in the story, which she denied.

However, in the wake of the publication of the article on 9 January, other newspapers published allegations that Mr Ashby had shared a double bed at a French chateau with Dr Kilduff. Mr Shaw told the jury that when questioned by journalists on the doorstep of his flat in south-west London, Mr Ashby denied that he was having a homosexual affair but conceded that he had shared hotel rooms with men to save money.

However, a second story appeared in the Sunday Times when Mrs Garling again contacted the newspaper to tell of the holiday in Goa. The reporter tried to reassure Mrs Garling that she was doing the right thing - saying that if Mr Ashby, who stressed the importance of family values in the 1992 general election, had been openly homosexual the paper would not have been interested.

The reporter told Mrs Garling that it would force her brother's resignation from Parliament within two weeks, Mr Shaw said. "From that passage you learn that the joint object of Lynne Garling and the Sunday Times was to force, for their own reasons, David Ashby to resign as an MP."

The hearing continues today.