Rupert Allason: A reputation in tatters

Maastricht rebel, spywriter, serial litigator - but the former Torbay MP's latest recourse to law could be the ruin of him
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The Independent Online

Prologue: London, 2001

The 49-year-old spywriter was impassive as the judge delivered his withering verdict. In the opinion of Mr Justice Laddie, Nigel West, aka Rupert Allason, aka the Honourable Member for Bermuda, "ranks as one of the most dishonest witnesses I have ever seen". His reputation now in tatters, the raffishly handsome author – and the man who had single-handedly revived the trend for winter tans and unnecessarily big sunglasses – now faced the prospect of criminal proceedings. It was knavish.

Cryptoanalysis of the book The Enigma Spy had concluded that the work was 95 per cent the handiwork of the late John Cairncross, Moscow's elusive Fifth Man, and that Allason's input had been at best 5 per cent. Allason claimed that he had collaborated with Cairncross and sued the book's publisher, Random House, for 50 per cent of the proceeds.

Now the courts had rebuffed his demand. Not only had Mr Justice Laddie impugned him as "profoundly and cynically dishonest", he had also hurt the millionaire's wallet, awarding £200,000 indemnity costs against the author. "The penalty being imposed is financial destruction and is disproportionate," retorted the ex-MP. It was an ignominious day – a far cry from the privileged background which the young Rupert William Simon Allason had rightfully enjoyed ...

Chapter one: Grenoble, 1970

The sloe-eyed English teenager skied effortlessly down the slopes, spattering the envious Europeans as he whizzed past. Rupert had ostensibly come to study at Grenoble University, but that was only a cover for the attractions of winter sports. His father, Lt-Col James Allason, was safely confined to the Tory benches in the Commons as MP for Hemel Hempstead, leaving the young Rupert free to pursue his extracurricular interests. The harsh discipline of his public school days at Downside had cured young Rupert of his early ambitions to join the army, but the powers that be had already clearly marked him out as a sporting sort, rather than an academic. Nevertheless, his aptitude for covering his tracks were already apparent: subsequent inquiries to Grenoble would reveal that this student was as good as inconnu to the university authorities. Rupert Allason – The Man Who Wasn't There – was born.

Chapter two: London, 1981

Still in his twenties (just), the fit young man was starting to make a name for himself as a useful researcher in the cloak-and-dagger world of spooks and double agents at the BBC's general features department. Already he had collaborated with Newsnight presenter Donald McCormick on the book to accompany the television series Spy!. Now the rookie was ready to go solo. It was time to unleash his alter ego, which was only slightly larger than his ego.

Chapter three: Berlin, 1985

Who better for the magazine Intelligence Quarterly to appoint as European editor than the now-famous spywriter Nigel West? West was the serious and well-connected author of a series of books on the British security services MI5 and MI6. And he wrote thrillers, too. Truth and fiction entangled. Sometimes, Allason reflected as he shaved the smooth contours of his chin in the grey light of the early morning, it was hard to tell which was which.

Like so many before him, West had been unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Attorney-General, who had tried to stop publication of A Matter of Trust. West had won the court action, and many of the book's claims were subsequently vindicated by Peter Wright's Spycatcher allegations. Increasing numbers of disgruntled ex-spooks turned to West as a conduit for their anxieties about the services. In the small pond of espionage authors, Nigel West was becoming a big fish. A very big fish.

Chapter four: Torbay, 1987

" ... and I therefore declare that Rupert Allason is duly elected as Member of Parliament for the said constituency." It was 11.01pm on the 11th of June. Torbay was the first seat to declare a winner on election night: for a brief, scary moment, the country had only one elected MP. Rupert Allason MP, an asset under the command of Office Central, Conservative HQ. Command, yes; but control? Never. He was already marked out as a troublemaker, a maverick. He confirmed this view when, in January 1988, he was one of only 20 Tory rebels to vote for reform of the Official Secrets Act, joining recidivist awkward-squad members such as Jonathan Aitken, Teddy Taylor and Richard Shepherd. From now on, Rupert Allason was a marked man in the Tory whips' office. His own side was gunning for him.

Chapter five: Government Whips' Office, Westminster, 23 July 1993, 4.10pm

That man Allason! Wasn't there again! After the previous night's fiasco of a 317-317 tied Commons vote on Maastricht, the PM had called for a vote of confidence to bolster his dwindling authority. From his whips, he demanded a full turnout. All the rebels and stay-at-homes had duly answered the party's call. All except one. Allason. Rumour had it that he was sunning himself in the Caribbean! This absence was making the whips' hearts grow steelier: if that's his attitude, we'll make him pay. Withdraw the whip. That'll teach him. His own constituency chairman threatened to deselect him.

Chapter six: College Green, 1996

Rarely were they off the TV screens. The Maastricht Rebels. The Whipless Wonders. Gorman, Marlow, Shepherd, Budgen – the roll-call of Eurosceptic heroism. But one whipless wonder remained in the shadows. Who was that skulking creature? Yes: him again. While the other Eurorebels suffered, Allason was rewarded with the restoration of the whip. And he duly delivered. As the Government teetered on the edge of defeat in the crucial vote on the arms-to-Iraq affair, Allason's vote ensured that – by 320-319 – it survived. For once, The Man Who Wasn't There, was.

Allason's political impact was modest. But he achieved a kind of fame by pursuing more than 20 civil court actions, including one involving Alastair Campbell when Campbell was a Labour journalist. He had become the most prolific litigant in Commons history. A badge he wore with pride.

Chapter seven: Torbay, 2 May 1997, 2am

Torbay was not going to win the race tonight. Three recounts ensured that the whole country knew this was a tight one. It shouldn't have been. Rupert sat on a 5,787 majority over the Liberal Democrats in 1992. That's a lot of votes to lose. He lost them. By 12 votes, the Lib Dem squeaked it. And that was all thanks to those other anti-euros in the UK Independence Party, who nicked 2,000 votes from the Allason camp. Meet The Man Who Now Wasn't an MP.

Epilogue: London, 2001

Rupert Allason buttoned up his navy blazer and affected a nonchalant posture. "I have come to the conclusion that Mr Allason has told me untruth after untruth in pursuit of this claim." Mr Justice Laddie's words burned deep into his pride. According to the judge's late-night researches on the internet, Allason had even arranged for a website to be altered in his dishonest pursuit of money. The litigious spywriter had frequently supplemented his income in the courts, often – as in this case – representing himself. He had usually won, apart from the time he sued over an entry in the "Have I Got 1997 For You" diary, which referred to him as a "conniving little shit". He had never understood how anyone could say that about him. Some people were just jealous.

His legal tradecraft had let him down this time. Where would this agent of mystery turn up next? "Am I going to appeal? You bet I am," he huffed. One thing was sure, we hadn't heard the last of him yet.

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