Police were right to suspect Fayed of theft, rules judge

Police were right to suspect Mohamed Al Fayed as a thief and arrest him for allegedly breaking into a Harrods safety deposit box rented by his bitter rival Tiny Rowland, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.

The humiliating judgment against the Harrods boss came as he lost the case he had brought against Scotland Yard for false imprisonment.

There was further embarrassment for Mr Fayed during the hearing when it emerged that a fortune in antique jewellery from another box belonging to an elderly woman, a relative of the late Sir James Goldsmith, had disappeared after Mrs Fayed had "shown interest in them".

Mr Rowland, the loser in a bitter battle with Mr Fayed for control of Harrods, alleged in a 1997 lawsuit that Mr Fayed persuaded employees to break into his safe-deposit box.

Mr Fayed and his employees were arrested – and subsequently released – in March 1998 and in July of the same year an investigation by the Metropolitan Police's Organized Crime Group ended without any charges.

Dismissing the action brought by Mr Fayed and four of his current and past employees, Mr Justice Cresswell said: "I find that a reasonable man would have been of the opinion that... there was reasonable ground for suspecting Mr Fayed to be guilty of theft and criminal damage jointly with others."

Neither Mr Fayed nor the four others – John Macnamara, Paul Handley-Greaves, Colin Dalman and John Allen – had appeared at the High Court to give evidence.

Detective Chief Superintendent Jeff Rees, the officer who led the investigation against Mr Fayed, was described by Mr Justice Cresswell as "an extremely impressive police officer and an extremely impressive witness". Mr Rees retired from the Met in September 2000 after 35 years and is now chief investigator at the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption unit.

Mr Rees' solicitor, Graham Small, said: "The greatest travesty is that the Metropolitan Police were taken from fighting crime to go into court to defend themselves". Mr Fayed said after the case that he was "appalled" by the judgment. "I have instructed my lawyers to launch an immediate appeal because the ruling strikes at the heart of civil liberties," he said. Mr Fayed said he had not brought the action because he was vindictive towards the police, insisting: "I merely want justice."

The genesis of Mr Fayed's action lay in the secret opening of a safety deposit box belonging to the late Lonrho boss Mr Rowland – a former business ally-turned-rival – at Harrods on the alleged orders of Mr Fayed and in his presence on three different occasions in December 1995.

According to a list given to the police by Mr Rowland, the contents of the box included documents as well as emeralds, rubies, Tibetan coins and a rare Tibetan stamp, five guinea English gold coins and a gold cigarette box.

After the police investigation began the box was opened by Mr Rowland on 5 June, 1997 under police supervision, the court heard. The Lonrho boss noticed that envelopes had been torn and the contents were in some state of disarray.

A Scotland Yard officer reported: "Mr Rowland appeared very shocked, his hands began to shake and it was obvious the incident had upset him."

Two years ago Mr Fayed agreed a £ 1.4m settlement with Mr Rowland's widow, Josephine, in which he admitted her late husband's box was opened. But he denied being the instigator.

The court also heard that a safety box belonging to Ms Helga Schwarzschild, was opened for non-payment of rents, and jewellery worth £100,000 went missing after being taken to Mr Fayed's office, and after his wife, Heini, had shown interest. No settlement has been reached yet.

Fayed's feuds

Jonathan Aitken, right, a former Tory minister, was jailed for perjury after lying about who paid for a stay at the Paris Ritz in 1993. Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of the Paris Ritz, saw him in the hotel and told the editor of a national newspaper.

Neil Hamilton lost a libel action against Mr Fayed in 1999. The Harrods owner had accused the former Tory minister of taking cash for tabling parliamentary questions. At the trial, Mr Fayed accused Prince Philip of "masterminding" a conspiracy to kill Diana, Princess of Wales and his son Dodi.

Tiny Rowland, right, the former boss of the Lonrho conglomerate, lost a long battle with Mr Fayed for ownership of Harrods. He tried to persuade the Government to investigate the sale in the Eighties.

Henry Porter, Vanity Fair's London editor, was in a libel dispute over a magazine article in 1995 accusing Mr Fayed, among other things, of harassing female staff. It was settled out of court.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

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