The Hamilton Affair: The vanquished - Hamilton, a fatally flawed politician on the make who grabbed, gambled, lied and lost

LAST SATURDAY, the day after a highly favourable summing up by the judge in his libel action against Mohamed Al Fayed, the former Tory MP Neil Hamilton was musing how and when to make his political return. His formidable wife, Christine, was starting her memoirs which would chart their victory over adversity.

Last night, all that turned to ashes. Mr Hamilton is a man destroyed, financially ruined and branded a corrupt politician whose name is a byword for sleaze.

As the foreman of the jury returned the verdict yesterday, after a day and half of tense waiting, the Hamiltons seemed to break physically. They buried their heads in their hands and began to shake. Mrs Hamilton, who had wept when the jury had gone out, now appeared dry-eyed, in a state of shock. It was her husband who wept.

Afterwards, wearing his "lucky" suit dating back to a previous, successful, libel action, he put his arm around her and talked about their devastation and also "rebuilding... picking up pieces". His friends and supporters stood talking in whispers.

Mr Hamilton, 50, was looking into the abyss. But many would say it was his own fatal flaw, a greed for money and a belief that he could fool people, which had brought him there.

Mostyn Neil Hamilton's parliamentary career was undistinguished until Baroness Thatcher made him a whip. In many ways he was a archetypal Thatcherite, without a privileged background, who had made his own way. Indeed, so great is his admiration for the former prime minister that a cardboard cut-out of her stands at his home, the Old Rectory in Nether Alderley, Cheshire.

When he was in the Commons, Mr Hamilton, who trained as a barrister, was not easily ignored. He supported the death penalty and corporal punishment and was an outspoken critic of Nelson Mandela, dismissing the African National Congress as "a typical terrorist organisation".

But he was susceptible to financial inducements, and in the lobbyist Ian Greer he found a lucrative source of income who paid him handsome commission for introducing businesses. So Mr Hamilton was a natural recruit for Mr Greer when he organised a campaign by MPs to combat an offensive by Mr Fayed's arch rival, Tiny Rowland, over the purchase of Harrods.

In September 1987, Neil and Christine Hamilton went to stay at the Paris Ritz hotel, owned by Mr Fayed, at his invitation. Not a single morsel of the bill they ran up escaped scrutiny at the trial, from the four-course dinners, vintage champagnes and fine wines, to the charging of postage stamps.

The jury was told that every night the couple dined in the hotel's two-Michelin-starred restaurant. Every stamp they bought, all parking charges, all laundry, all telephone calls and all newspapers were billed to Mr Fayed. Frank Klein, the hotel's president, said that even for the Ritz the total - just over pounds 2,000 in 1987, and about pounds 3,238 today - was "a very large bill". Christine Hamilton said she had to rest in their room in the afternoons because of a recurring back problem and a viral infection and consumed "copious amounts of water and fruit juice and things like that, and, because of my bad back, alcohol, which is a great cure if you have a bad back".

But Mr Hamilton's cosy relationship with Mr Fayed collapsed when the former was appointed minister for corporate affairs by John Major and he toed the line of the Department of Trade and Industry. A vengeful Mr Fayed "shopped" Mr Hamilton and other MPs who had helped him, starting a wave of sleaze stories.

An inquiry by Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner, found Mr Hamilton guilty of taking cash for questions on behalf of Mr Fayed, and this was subsequently confirmed by the Commons Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, which scathingly criticised the MP for Tatton.

Against the wishes of the party hierarchy, he decided to defend his seat against Martin Bell, the white-suited anti-sleaze candidate, providing the media with a feast. He lost.

Mr Hamilton could have backed out of the public gaze then. But his hubris would not let him. He had won a libel action against the BBC in the past with help from rich right-wing sympathisers, and he turned to them again. They set up a fund for the legal fight, guided by a belief that Mr Hamilton had been treated badly by Sir Gordon and the select committee, and also by a loathing of Mr Fayed.

The couple, involved in furious wrangling with the media before the election, now seemed to embrace it. Both wrote lighthearted books parodying themselves - on battleaxes and scandals. Mr and Mrs Hamilton, who married during the 1983 general election campaign, were photographed in a Sunday tabloid offering themselves for hire as a cook and butler, and they offered themselves as holiday replacements for Richard and Judy on their This Morning television show.

The high Tories at the Carlton Club shuddered, the Hamiltons were accused of cashing in on their notoriety and becoming comic music-hall turns. They became more concerned when Mr Hamilton, at his pounds 700,000 home in Tatton and pounds 300,000 flat in Battersea, south London, began to talk about trying to regain the candidacy at Tatton where George Osborne, Mr Hague's speech writer, confidant and ally, has already been selected.

Mr Hamilton lost a stone and half to get "fighting fit" for his courtroom battle, and talked about having "his finger on the trigger" and the "Phoney Pharaoh [Mr Fayed]""in his gunsight".

Mr Fayed, in turn, threatened to revisit sleaze on the Tories and reports began to circulate that his redoubtable QC, George Carman, had some explosive new material on Mr Hamilton.

And in the end it was that - the nature of his financial links with Mobil Oil which Mr Hamilton had hidden from his own government, the Downey inquiry and the select committee - which sank him. He had been greedy, gambled, lied and lost.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Web Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Business Development Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to develop an ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor