The Ashcroft Affair: `A disgusting conspiracy'

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AN OPEN letter to the editor of The Times

21 July 1999

Dear Mr Stothard,

Enough is enough. When I agreed to have breakfast with you and Lord Bell six weeks ago, I listened carefully to your allegations and answered all the points you raised. You told me that I had given a good account of myself and I had expected to hear little more about it. How wrong I proved to be!

Since that time, there has been an almost constant stream of inflammatory articles in The Times about me, about Belize, and about organisations with which I am connected.

I have tried to be reasonable. My lawyers have written to you day after day asking you at least to have the decency to check the facts with me before you publish. You have consistently refused to do so.

Instead, we have witnessed perhaps the most one-sided, partial and coloured account of anyone's affairs ever produced by a newspaper in a free country. You print deliberately selective quotes, you twist every detail and comment. You are the spin doctor in this sorry saga.

Everything that fails to fit the construction which you have chosen to place upon events is ignored, even official statements from the government of Belize, the US State Department and the governor of the Central Bank of Belize. Over the years, I have developed a thick skin and, until now, I have been able to ignore your allegations. But in the last 24 hours you have gone too far. As you well know, I established Crimestoppers and I have been chairman of Action on Addiction. I do not condone crime, and in particular I do not condone drug trafficking.

I have nothing to hide. On Sunday, my lawyers wrote to you asking you to publish the infamous DEA reports in full. You declined to do so. Instead, we were last night warned by one of your journalists that a Labour MP had been set up to ask questions in the House today about me. Step forward Peter Bradley.

This morning, you published more about me, making it perfectly clear to your readers what you consider my track record to be on both drug trafficking and money laundering. This was followed, as planned, by Peter Bradley's performance in the House of Commons.

This co-ordinated campaign - this conspiracy - to smear me at a crucial point in the run-up to an important by-election is disgusting.

I have asked myself the question, why is The Times doing this? Until last night, I was unable to find an answer. But I learn from one of your journalists that, following your failure to prevent Greg Dyke's recent appointment, you have told your colleagues that instead you intend to get me.

I have no intention of allowing you to get me. I am this afternoon issuing a writ against you, your employers and two of your journalists.

Michael A Ashcroft