Tories In Crisis: Earl is revealed as `Q', the mystery donor to libel fund

HIS CODENAME is "Q", Lord Harris of High Cross said in a conspiratorial voice. "He is a peer of the realm, an independent and outstanding chap..." He is also, it emerged, one of the main contributors to the Hamilton legal fund.

The mystery, such as it is, can be solved. "Q" is Quentin Gerard Carew Wallop, the 10th Earl of Portsmouth, a Tory backwoodsman who can be sighted today at a habitat much favoured by his type, the letters column of The Daily Telegraph.

Writing from his home in Farleigh Wallop, Hampshire, the Earl will explain why he feels it was right to support the former Conservative minister for corporate affairs in the libel case against Mohamed Al Fayed that went so disastrously wrong at the High Court, leaving him and other benefactors facing a possible pounds 2.5m legal bill.

Others who contributed to the fund, run by Lord Harris, the 75-year-old founding president of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the former Guinness Book of Records chief Norris McWhirter, include the Greek socialite Taki Theodoracopulos, the former MP and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth and the political columnist Simon Heffer, as well as three wealthy right-wing Americans whose identities remain unknown. Others such as Lord Bell, Baroness Thatcher's former PR advisor, have pledged sums but are yet to pay. Some of the same people are said to have contributed to the fund for Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator now under house arrest in Surrey on charges of human rights abuse.

This is the second time such a fund had been set up by Lord Harris to help out Neil Hamilton in a legal case. In the mid-Eighties a similar support group was organised when the former MP for Tatton successfully sued the BBC over a Panorama programme, Maggie's Militant Tendency.

The contributions, some for as little as pounds 5, for the Fayed action have come from more than 500 people, raising around pounds 410,000. Mr Theodoracopulos paid pounds 50,000, and Lord Harris and Mr McWhirter are said to have given five-figure sums each. Mr Heffer had donated pounds 5,000.

Little is known about the 45-year-old Earl of Portsmouth except that he is very rich and has taken an interest in defamation cases in the past. He spent about pounds 500,000 supporting Count Tolstoy in his unsuccessful fight against Lord Aldingon over the count's allegations that Cossack prisoners of war were sent back to Stalin against their wishes by the British army at the end of the Second World War.

The Earl then published a controversial book on the subject by Ian Mitchell, leaving himself open to the possibility of legal action. He said at the time: "That is something I have taken into account.... Should anyone contemplate suing on this book, I have access to the means to fund the very best legal advice, and I will see them in court."