No more Ritz lifestyle as unrepentant couple say sale of home is inevitable

OTHERS WOULD have kept quiet after the disaster at the High Court and the public ignominy that followed, but that is not the style of Neil and Christine Hamilton.

Not much was seen of them yesterday until they left their flat opposite Battersea Park in south London for their home in Cheshire late in the afternoon. The couple forced a smile and posed for pictures before being driven away under police escort. But the Hamiltons had used of the telephone to try to portray themselves as victims of injustice, a latter-day "Mr and Mrs Dreyfus".

The couple are having to reconcile themselves to the loss of their pounds 700,000 home, the Old Rectory, at Nether Alderley, near Macclesfield, which has been pledged to the former MP's solicitors, Crockers Oswald Hickson. The London flat, said to be worth about pounds 300,000, should be safe if Mr Hamilton declares himself bankrupt because it is owned by his wife.

They also face a bleak future earning a living. Mr Hamilton had thought about returning to politics if he had won the case, but that is no longer a possibility. After his general election defeat in Tatton at the hands of the "anti-sleaze candidate" Martin Bell, the couple had embraced the media, appearing on chat shows. But now they are said to fear that after initial interest, they will be forgotten. They have, however, arranged a reputed five-figure sum for an interview with Mrs Hamilton in The Mail on Sunday.

Mr Hamilton, a picture of despair after the case on Tuesday, was composed, despite a sleepless night. He said: "Juries can make mistakes and we know there have been lots of miscarriages of justice in the past. I am not protesting and kicking and screaming about it. I know that the system has worked against me ... [but] I am not blaming the jury in any way."

Asked if he regretted embarking on what turned out to be a disastrous libel action, Mr Hamilton said: "If I had known what was going to result in 1999 I would have drawn stumps in 1995 when I was stopped from taking my first legal action against The Guardian.

"Then at least I would have preserved my life savings. But I had to fight to clear my name and I don't regret doing that even though we have lost at the end of the day. A lot of people won't believe me but if I had not been able to continue I would never have been able to live with myself ... Thousands of people don't believe yesterday's case was right and they are right not to believe it."

Mrs Hamilton added: "We don't know where we go from here ... It will be dreadful, but we have got to face up to it. We've got the most important things in life. We've got each other, we've got the truth, we've got wonderfully supportive families, we have got our health, even when we've lost our house and we are bankrupt. And we have got the most unbelievable group of friends."

Lord Harris of High Cross, who ran the Hamilton legal fund, said: "I don't have any regrets because the whole case was conducted against a tidal wave of prejudice and media pressure over five or 10 years."