Tories urge Hamilton to drop plan for appeal

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The Independent Online
SENIOR CONSERVATIVES urged Neil Hamilton yesterday to drop plans for an appeal against last week's libel verdict in his case against Mohamed Al Fayed.

Despite losing the case and facing a pounds 2m legal bill, Mr Hamilton has said he wants to continue to pursue his action, claiming the judge's summing up was deficient. However, there were signs that the Tory leadership was becoming increasingly irritated by the former minister's determination to keep his case in the public eye.

A spokesman for Conservative Central Office said that Michael Ancram, the party chairman, believed a line should now be drawn under the case and that there was little point in such an appeal. "Of course it is quite within Neil Hamilton's rights to appeal against last week's verdict," the spokesman said. "But as the party chairman has made clear, we now regard this matter as closed, and feel there is little to be gained from this affair being dragged through the courts for further months, if not years."

Appeals in such cases are very difficult to mount, and some observers suggested Mr Hamilton's move might just be a delaying tactic to put off paying his bills to Mr Fayed. Mr Hamilton sued the multi-millionaire owner of Harrods over claims that he had taken cash in return for asking Parliamentary questions - an offence of which he was found guilty by the then Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Gordon Downey.

However, in a trial which caught the national imagination to such an extent that it is now likely to be made into a television drama, Mr Hamilton failed to convince the jury that Mr Fayed had been lying. Former employees of the tycoon gave evidence that they personally organised payments. The judge, though he advised jurors not to rely on Mr Fayed's personal testimony, also said he believed a payout should be restricted to pounds 150,000 if Mr Hamilton won. During the case it emerged that Mr Hamilton had demanded pounds 10,000 from Mobil Oil for moving an amendment to a Bill in the company's interest.

Mr Hamilton was not available yesterday, but he told a Sunday newspaper that important facts were withheld from the jury during the trial. He added that he believed he could raise funds to mount an attempt to overturn the court's ruling in the Court of Appeal. "We are talking about pounds 40,000 or pounds 50,000 and that sort of money would be easily available if there was a prospect of a retrial," he said. "We are looking for new ways to go on the attack. We had a lot of material we were not allowed as evidence."

After losing the libel suit over the cash-for-questions row the Hamiltons could face a bill of up to pounds 2m for their own costs and Mr Fayed's. The couple have said they may be forced to sell their home, the Old Rectory in Nether Alderley, Cheshire. Yesterday, in a diary of the six-week libel action published in a Sunday newspaper Mr Hamilton describes how he sobbed after losing the case: "I had climbed Mount Everest only to topple from a precipice just short of the summit."