Rebel without a case 'profoundly dishonest'

Novelist and former Tory MP with a taste for the high life is left with his reputation in tatters by a judge who dismissed his case
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The Independent Online

Volumes are spoken by Rupert Allason's single entry under recreations in Who's Who: "Sailing close to the wind." It is an accurate description both literally and figuratively.

The wealthy former Conservative MP and espionage writer does sail. He also shoots, skis, has a passion for Porsches and, according to his brother, attractive women. A maverick and a loner, Mr Allason, 49, was often a thorn in the Tory rump -- the "Rebel without a Pause" -- to the point of having the whip withdrawn for a year after he failed to attend a vote on the Maastricht Treaty.

But yesterday, he faced the prospect of a voyage into perilous waters after a High Court judge described him as "a profoundly dishonest man", and raised the prospect of a criminal investigation into his conduct during the bitterly contested literary lawsuit over the copyright to the John Cairncross book The Enigma Spy.

Having grown up in a political family, Mr Allason was a Member of Parliament by his mid-30s. Almost immediately, he eschewed any aims to become a minister, declaring that he could not bear to be driven around in a Government Allegro. As it was, he lost his Torbay seat -- ending 70 years of Conservative control -- to the Liberal Democrats in 1997 after three recounts.

His faithful, elderly, upper-middle class voters -- one of whom remarked that she "admired Rupert. He's not just a pretty face, but I must admit that helps" -- could not save him. Mr Allason – who became hooked on the world of spies as a teenager has a profitable alter ego: Nigel West. He has written countless books on espionage -- as well as several novels, which have earned him a considerable amount of money as well as praise from fellow intelligence writers.

His friends describe him as a "beacon in the drab landscape of politics", enigmatic and charming. His adversaries, however, have called him "impossibly pleased with himself" and even -- if only in jest -- "a conniving little shit".

He is also famous for being extremely litigious -- a self-confessed "hobby" which has proved very successful. He has won the vast majority of more than two dozen cases.

In July 1998, he won his legal battle against the Daily Mirror -- which had claimed 50 MPs had challenged him to demonstrate his concern for the Maxwell pensioners by giving them an estimated £250,000 libel damages he had won from the newspaper in a previous libel action. He was awarded nominal damages.

This, however, did not happen when he took on Have I Got News for You in 1998. He lost his case against the BBC and Hat Trick Productions despite insisting that a reference in the show's 1997 diary was "vicious and revolting". They argued it was fair comment and a matter of public interest.

It read: "The maverick Tory MP, when he is writing spy novels, is called Nigel West, and when he is fighting against his own Government is called something unprintable. Indeed, given Mr Allason's fondness for pursuing libel actions, here are also excellent reasons for not referring to him as a conniving little shit."

Politically, Allason has also courted controversy. He earned the nickname of Bermuda Triangle among political colleagues because, a whip once said, that is where he was alleged to be when his vote was desperately needed in the Commons at a time when the Tory majority under John Major was depleting almost week by week.

He was the only Tory MP not to support the Government in the July 1993 confidence vote that followed Maastricht. In 1996, however, he saved the Government from a humiliating defeat when he voted with them on Sir Richard Scott's arms-to-Iraq report.

A man who calls himself deeply undomesticated, he has houses all over the world -- at one point owning homes in Chelsea, his constituency, Berkshire, Bermuda and Zermatt, in the Swiss Alps. The second son of James Allason, a former Lieutenant-Colonel and MP for Hemel Hempstead and PPS to John Profumo, Allason attended the Downside Catholic school and Grenoble University, where he spent much of his time skiing. In 1979 married Bermudan-born heiress Nikki van Moppes and the couple had two children. They divorced in 1996 and Allason took up with violinist Jane Burgess.

In a career punctuated by highs and lows, Allason achieved, perhaps, an all-time low yesterday when Mr Justice Laddie accused him of telling "untruth after untruth".