Clark: I deserve to be horsewhipped: Mary Braid and Rhys Williams watched the 'media circus' as the Amazing Harkess Family flew into Britain to 'put the record straight'

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YESTERDAY at 6.30am in Heathrow Airport's Terminal Four the promised 'media circus' began. Drawing on years of scandal- handling experience, the publicist Max Clifford, the inevitable ringmaster, cut a path through waiting photographers and journalists to present the Amazing Harkess Family, fresh off the plane from South Africa.

The Harkesses - James, 64, a former deputy circuit judge, wife Valerie, 57, and step-daughter Josephine, 34 - are appearing in their home country for just one week. But their allegations that Alan Clark, former Cabinet minister, successful diarist and self-confessed Lothario, the serial bedder of Valerie, Josephine and her sister Alison, 36, is expected to net the family pounds 150,000.

When Mr Harkess, who only recently learnt of his wife and step- daughters' affairs with Mr Clark, flew in from Cape Town an 'exclusive' deal with Sky Television was already in the bag. And while he was denouncing Mr Clark as a 'lecherous, arrogant and deceitful' man, he would gladly 'horsewhip', the Sun was preparing its own 'exclusive' and the News of the World - which broke the story - was putting the finishing touches to 'part two' of its 'exclusive'.

The Harkesses insisted that they were motivated, not by money, but by anger at Mr Clark's 'smutty' references to them in his diaries and a desire to 'put the record straight'. In his book, Mr Clark refers to Mrs Harkess and her daughters as 'the coven'.

In the airport press room Josephine, in leopard-print chiffon scarf and white, skin-tight leggings, did not go in for understatement. The Harkesses had flown to Britain with a story 'the whole world wanted to hear'. Unable to fund 'an exclusive', the waiting press pack had to be content with a repetition of Sunday's allegations and promises of more dirt to come.

The Harkesses and Mr Clark agree that they were once dear friends. Thereafter, consensus disappears. Yesterday they denied that they had asked Mr Clark for pounds 100,000 not to make the story public. 'That is an absolute lie, like a lot of other things the man says,' Mrs Harkess said.

Later there were serious allegations which could forever alter the view of Mr Clark as a hopeless, unprincipled but essentially harmless rake. In the News of the World on Sunday the daughters were reported to have been in their late teens when Mr Clark allegedly showed them his penis. Last night sources at the newspaper admitted that their ages may have been raised for fear of legal action.

Yesterday on Sky News, Josephine claimed that Mr Clark had exposed himself to the girls when they were 13 and 15. 'He showed his willy to us constantly. I was 13 when I first saw Alan's private parts and my sister was 18 months older. This was a pattern which went on throughout our teens. Alan, in a very gentle way - I won't elaborate on it - he would never force himself on us, he just sort of got a kick out of showing it to us.

'That was the thrill, to show it to us, a couple of young virgins, very young teenagers . . . This went on throughout our teens and developed into cupping our breasts, rubbing himself up against us.'

She said Mr Clark had been the first man to show her sexual interest. 'I now, in retrospect, realise the psychological damage. Here was a man who was not threatening to us, that was a family friend, who imposed his attentions.'

Alison, married to Sergei Kausov, a former KGB agent and ex-husband of Christina Onassis, is 'estranged' from the family, according to Mr Clifford, and does not want to be involved in the row.

At Saltwood Castle, his family's 17th-century home in Kent, Mr Clark was lying low. After backing out of making a speech last night at an exhibition of classic English furniture in London, he said: 'I deserve to be horsewhipped. It all happened a very long time ago, and I am trying to keep a low profile. I probably have a different sense of morality to most people.'

Earlier his long-suffering wife, Jane, whom he married when she was 16 and he was 30, did not appear to be allowing the latest furore concerning her husband's sexual behaviour to disrupt the day. Mrs Clark, who has described her husband's many extramarital interests as tarts with short shelf lives, dismissed the Harkess women as 'below stairs'. Their association with Mr Clifford proved her point, she said, as she walked with her rottweiler dogs.

Later she became angry at allegations that her husband tried to silence the family with money. Breaking off from feeding her hens, she said: 'It's absolutely not true that my husband offered them money. I was so cross when I heard that's what they were saying that I had to come straight down here to tell you the truth. They asked him for pounds 100,000 in order to stop the story being printed. It was a blackmail attempt.'

Mrs Clark laughed when asked if this meant the end of her marriage. 'This is hardly going to split us up. Our marriage is stronger now than it has been in the past. I had got very good at throwing things, but I don't need to now.'

Mrs Harkess claims she had a 14- year affair with Mr Clark, which she admits survived her daughters' confessions that they, too, had slept with the 'trusted family friend'. 'I was very culpable in that,' she said. 'And I make no excuses for myself, except that I was in a vortex, a whirlpool. I simply could not swim strong enough for the shore.'

When it was put to Mrs Harkess that it must be 'some man' who could exercise such control over a mother and her two daughters, she replied: 'Yes'. She and Josephine claim they were sickened by references to them in the diary. They were petrified that their husbands - Josephine recently became the third wife of wealthy architect Anton van der Spuys, 22 years her senior - and friends in the small expatriate Cape Town community would 'put two and two together' when they read the diaries.

The diary entries to 'the coven' are fleeting. On 13 June 1983, Mr Clark recalls: 'In London I collected the coven and off we went to Brook's for dinner. At intervals Joei said 'Gosh, Al, are you really a minister, zowee.' Valerie was less forthcoming. Ali sulked and sneered. Driving away we went past the Ritz and Joei said, 'Gosh is that the Ritz? I wish we could go in there.' 'Why?' 'To go to bed of course.' I was thoughtful; I have always been culpably weak in such matters.'

Another entry refers to an alleged suicide attempt by Josephine in 1984. Mr Clifford said she was livid about the entry and insisted

it had not been a serious attempt.

Last night both sides were crying traitor. Mr Clark said he had been bitterly 'traduced' by people who he held in affection and trust.

Mr Harkess, who comes from a privileged, colonial background, had his own definition of betrayal; an affair with a good friend's wife and the seduction of his two step- daughters. He said: 'Alan Clark was and is unfit to hold office and there are too many others like him in the present government.'

Josephine insisted that the family was 'going through enormous personal trauma' over the story. 'It's taken great courage on behalf of my parents to support my calling Alan Clark out. I have known Alan since I was nine. This secret would have gone with us to the grave had he not mentioned me in a very defamatory and derogatory way in his book.'

She said Mr Clark had refused to see her or talk about matters. 'I cannot allow this to stand. I have a life in South Africa. I have been married for six months to a man 22 years older than me and his whole community are contemporaries of Alan Clark. They are all going to read this book. If I don't say anything, my silence will agree with what is written.'

Last night, Mr Clifford, the man behind the Freddie Star Ate My Hampster 'story', the sale of pictures of the Princess of Wales exercising at a gym and the exposure of Antonia de Sancha's affair with David Mellor, was busy keeping the circus on the road. Already he was considering the overseas commercial possibilities. 'There is always a market for a British scandal. It must have something to do with the pompous, holier-than-thou, view of British society. Then the people in power and influence make such fools of themselves.'

If nothing else, the episode will add to the anticipation surrounding volume two of Mr Clark's best-selling diaries, due out next May.

(Photograph omitted)