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TORIES IN CRISIS: Unrepentant Hamiltons resigned to losing home start life as have-nots

OTHERS WOULD have kept quiet after the disaster at the High Court and the public ignominy that followed, but that is not the style of Neil and Christine Hamilton.

Not much was seen of them until they left their flat opposite Battersea Park in south London for their home in Cheshire late in the afternoon. The couple, both sporting red jumpers, forced a smile and posed for pictures before being driven away under police escort. But the Hamiltons had made much use of the telephone to attempt to portray themselves as victims of injustice, a latter-day "Mr and Mrs Dreyfus".

The couple are having to reconcile themselves to the loss of their pounds 700,000 home, the Old Rectory, at Nether Alderley, near Macclesfield, which has been pledged to the former MP's solicitors, Crockers Oswald Hickson. The London flat, said to be worth about pounds 300,000 should be safe if Mr Hamilton declares himself bankrupt because it is owned by his wife.

They also face a bleak future earning a living. Mr Hamilton had thought about returning to politics if he had won the case, but that is no longer a possibility. After Mr Hamilton's general election defeat in Tatton at the hands of the "anti-sleaze candidate" Martin Bell, the couple had embraced the media, appearing on chat shows. But now they are said to fear that after initial interest, they will be forgotten. They have, however, arranged a reputed five-figure sum for an interview with Mrs Hamilton in The Mail on Sunday.

Mr Hamilton, a picture of abject despair at the end of the case on Tuesday, was composed, despite a sleepless night. He said: "Juries can make mistakes and we know there have been lots of miscarriages of justice in the past. I am not protesting and kicking and screaming about it. I know that the system has worked against me ... [but] I am not blaming the jury in any way."

Asked if he regretted embarking on what turned out to be a disastrous libel action, Mr Hamilton said: "If I had known what was going to result in 1999 I would have drawn stumps in 1995 when I was stopped from taking my first legal action against The Guardian. Then at least I would have preserved my life savings. But I had to fight to clear my name and I don't regret doing that even though we have lost at the end of the day. A lot of people won't believe me but if I had not been able to continue I would never have been able to live with myself."

But did he find the experience humbling? "We have had to get used to humility in a big way for quite a number of years now. But being humbled does not mean that I can now un-say all the things I have been saying for the last five years. Thousands of people don't believe yesterday's case was right and they are right not to believe it."

Mr Hamilton admitted, however, that his employment prospects were now bleak. "Christine and I have lived on our wits for the last two and half years largely through the media. I have no idea whether we will be able to continue earning a living in that way."

Mrs Hamilton added: "We don't know where we got from here. There probably aren't any [legal] avenues open to us. I believe we probably would have done it again, because having the opportunity to put our case in court means that now a lot of people know more about this. We fought for five years. Neil has changed the law, we fought Fayed through the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords and we've now had this five-week battle.

"It will be dreadful, but we have got to face up to it. We've got the most important things in life. We've got each other, we've got the truth, we've got wonderfully supportive families, we have got our health, even when we've lost our house and we are bankrupt. And we have got the most unbelievable group of friends."

Lord Harris of High Cross, who ran the Hamilton legal fund, said: "I don't have any regrets because the whole case was conducted against a tidal wave of prejudice and media pressure over five or 10 years."

But Martin Bell said the loyalty of the people of Tatton had been stretched to the limit. "There are a lot of shattered people out there," he said. "There are the hardcore supporters who believed in them through thick and thin and I think the Mobil allegations were very hard for them to take. There is some sympathy but there is a general recognition, even among his loyalists, that this is a chapter now closed."