Aitken's fellow directors question arms denial

Minister backed by Major as he tells MPs he did not know guns' destination

BY CHRIS BLACKHURST

TIM LAXTON

and COLIN BROWN

Former board members of BMARC, the arms company at the centre of the storm surrounding Jonathan Aitken, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, were divided yesterday over their level of knowledge of the contract to supply naval guns to Iran via Singapore.

Mr Aitken, who received backing from the Prime Minister in the Commons, has said he had no recollection of "ever having heard about Project Lisi [the deal's codename] or read about it in company reports" while a director of BMARC. He has denied he knew the guns were destined for Iran.

Yesterday, the Independent contacted four former directors of BMARC. Gerald James, the former chairman, reiterated it was "common knowledge" the weapons were going to Iran.

Jim Miller, the former finance director, said: "I do not disagree with that." Mr Miller said that while Iran was never mentioned in the boardroom, "we'd heard rumours they were going to Iran".

He added that Major-General Donald Isles, a former director who was in charge of the project, had specifically been asked by others inside the company about the destination of the guns. He replied that the order "had UK [Government] approval".

Gen Isles, said Mr Miller, had said there was "nothing controversial about a contract with Singapore. We were informed by Donald Isles everything had been approved and cleared by the Government. The board did not need to go further...I certainly knew about it probably being shipped to Iran."

Another director at the time, who did not want to be named, said he was aware of rumours the guns were destined for Iran and there were discussions inside the company about their final destination. He said monthly reports detailing BMARC's order book and progress on orders, including Project Lisi, were made available for every director at the board meetings.

Gen Isles, meanwhile, admitted to having heard "certain rumours" while at BMARC that the guns were heading for Iran. "There was the odd rumour the guns were going to Iran," he said. The rumours were passed on by word of mouth around the company. He added: "As far as we were concerned, they were going to Singapore, that is all there is to it."

None of the directors contacted by the Independent have denied that Mr Aitken received the monthly board reports which clearly mentioned Project Lisi.

Stephan Kock, another ex-BMARC director, told Channel 4 News, that he fully supported Mr Aitken's position and knew he would do nothing to harm the interests of the UK. Mr Kock went on: "All contracts would be discussed in as much as when you attended [board meetings]... they were passed around so you could look at them and ensure you didn't see anything out of the ordinary ... but that's as far as it goes."

Sir Richard Scott, head of the Scott arms-to-Iraq inquiry, yesterday returned papers on the BMARC controversy that Mr Aitken had sent to him. He said it was outside his terms of reference and he could not give Mr Aitken "any opinion or conclusion about the knowledge which you may or may not have had about Project Lisi". Sir Richard said he had been aware of Project Lisi "for some considerable time" and evidence presented to him suggested that it concerned exports to Iran.

At Westminster, Mr Aitken weathered a storm of calls from Labour for his sacking and won John Major's strong support. A spokesman for Mr Aitken said he was considering legal action against Gerald James, the former chairman of BMARC.

Mr Aitken led a spirited counter-attack as Labour MPs called for his resignation. With Mr Major's backing, Mr Aitken was given a show of support by Tory MPs, who waved their order papers and cheered when he brushed aside questions about his fitness for office. Mr Aitken accused Mr James of being "bitter" and "isolated" in his allegations, which were disclosed in the Independent.

The Prime Minister's office said Mr Aitken had Mr Major's support and, in the Commons, Mr Major rejected the calls for Mr Aitken's sacking. "He has made his position absolutely clear. No evidence has been found to counter that either by the Independent newspaper or anyone else," he said.

But Jack Cunningham, the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, who wrote to the Prime Minister demanding an inquiry, was not satisfied. He said: "It would be better for Mr Aitken if he was independently cleared of these questions."

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home