Scotland Yard investigates bizarre theft charge against Al Fayed

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The Independent Online
Scotland Yard is investigating a complaint of theft from tycoon Tiny Rowland's security deposit box at Harrods, allegedly ordered by his arch business rival, Mohamed Al Fayed. Kim Sengupta and Colin Brown chart an astonishing day, when disgraced former MP Neil Hamilton fought back with sensational allegations of intrigue and burglary.

It is a feud which ran for 20 years and just when it seemed the hatchet had been finally buried, revelations in committee room 15 of the House of Commons dramatically brought it back to life.

The incendiary war between Tiny Rowland and Mohamed Al Fayed began with the battle for the ownership of the House of Fraser and continued bitterly over the years. Yesterday Neil Hamilton sought to throw a lighted match into it.

His statement came as Lord Jakobovits, the former chief rabbi, launched a blister ing attack on the new-look Conservative party just days after Michael Portillo told the party it had to present a more tolerant face, criticised the party leadership for abandoning its morality.

"I'm saddened that a party that stood like a rock for certain values, family values ... should now surrender those ... for political gains," he said. "The Conservative Party used to insist on maintaining family values. It now wants to abandon this for a few votes."

In evidence to the Commons privileges committee over claims that he had accepted cash for Commons questions from MrFayed, Mr Hamilton accused the Harrods boss of ordering a break-in of Mr Rowland's security box at the store.

Under oath Mr Hamilton claimed that Mr Fayed had asked John McNamara and Bob Loftus, two of his security staff, to open the box owned by Mr Rowland after spotting him at the store. He allegedly said to Mr Loftus: "Why didn't you tell me about this when we had trouble with the DTI ... that he had this box here?"

As the astonished MPs listened to Mr Hamilton, a mile away at Chester Square Mr Rowland was revealing that items had been stolen from the box which he had kept at the store since before the Second World War. He called in the police two months ago and Scotland Yard confirmed that its Organised Crimes Squad was carrying out an investigation into alleged theft. One of those allegedly involved in the theft, John McNamara, is a former detective chief superintendent with Scotland Yard fraud squad.

Mr Rowland would only say: "The matter is in the hands of the police. I have gone with senior officers from Scotland Yard to retrieve what was left in my box." He declined to say whether documents relating to the House of Fraser bids, and a damning Department of Trade and Industry report into Mr Fayed's affairs had been taken. But his wife, Josie, said: "It is very upsetting. Anyone could see the box had been tampered with."

Last night Harrods' spokesman Michael Cole denied that the boxes had anything to do with the Harrods Bank, and also strenuously denied that they had been broken into. He said the allegations had been by a disgruntled ex-employee, Bob Loftus, who had demanded money from Mr Fayed.

Mr Hamilton told the committee that a locksmith called Roy Hamilton - "no relation" - had been called in by Harrods to open Mr Rowland's box, which was then taken to Mr Fayed's office. The locksmith was given an envelope containing pounds 50 notes and told to "keep his mouth shut".

Last night Mr Hamilton, of Coulsdon, Surrey, confirmed that he regularly worked at Harrods opening safety deposit boxes. But he said he could not remember anything about the Rowland job in December l995, and denied that he had received an envelope stuffed with pounds 50 notes.

The former MP for Tatton dropped the bombshell at the end of two hours of evidence, in a bravura performance to clear his name. He read out a statement to MPs by Mr Loftus alleging that Mr Fayed had ordered his staff to break into the security box. Mr Loftus, who was in charge of the safe deposit boxes in the basement of store, said that on 11 or 12 December, 1995, he was told by Mr McNamara, the director of the store's security, that Mr Fayed, the company's chairman, had instructed that they were to "access" Mr Rowland's safe deposit box.

Mr Loftus said he asked how they would do it. Mr McNamara allegedly replied: "I must know a locksmith who would do the job." Mr Loftus said they could not do that. Mr McNamara replied: "If the chairman wants it done, we do it."

Mr Hamilton said the locksmith allegedly agreed to break into the box, using special keys, after the store was closed with the security cameras switched off and was paid with a white envelope stuffed with pounds 50 notes "to square him". The box was taken to Mr Fayed's office suite on the fifth floor and put on the desk of Nancy Bush, Mr Fayed's senior personal assistant. Mr Fayed allegedly said: "Well done - good."

Mr Hamilton made the allegations to reinforce his claims that Mr Fayed's personal staff had lied when they gave evidence to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, that Mr Hamilton had accepted cash-for-questions with money stuffed into envelopes on a regular basis.

Denying he had taken cash-for-questions from Mr Fayed, Mr Hamilton pleaded with the standards and privileges committee chaired by Robert Sheldon, a former Labour Treasury minister, not to condemn him to a "life sentence" and expunge from the record the "series of falsehoods" which had besmirched his reputation.

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