Spywriter Tory may join Aitken and Archer out in the cold

The smooth-talking spywriter Rupert Allason could face jail after losing court case
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The Independent Online

Things hit a new low last week when a judge declared he could soon be following in the footsteps of those other scandal-hit Tories, Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, on the path that leads directly to jail. A court has imposed a six-month suspended sentence on Mr Allason and given him 42 days to comply with an order to produce details of his wealth.

The ruling is the latest in a four-year legal battle, notable for one of the most scathing verdicts delivered in court against a public figure. In October 2001, Mr Justice Laddie described Mr Allason as "one of the most dishonest witnesses I have ever seen". He added: "I have come to the clearest possible conclusion that Mr Allason has told me untruth after untruth in pursuit of this claim."

Mr Allason had sued the publishers Random House for damages over the disputed authorship of and copyright to The Enigma Spy, which was published under the name of John Cairncross, the alleged "fifth man" in the Cambridge spy ring.

He claimed to have ghostwritten the book, in return for 50 per cent of the proceeds and the copyright, a claim denied by the ex-spy's widow, Gladys Cairncross, who said that Mr Allason's only role was to find a publisher. Since winning the case, Random has spent four years trying in vain to collect the damages awarded.

Speaking from the US yesterday, Mr Allason said that he had no knowledge of the latest ruling. He added: "I've only just appointed a new lawyer, so I'm a bit behind on all this. I don't really want to talk about it. I just recommend that people don't sign a contract with Random House."

He has been a prolific litigant. By the early 1990s, he claimed to have won 22 cases, 17 for libel. By representing himself, he kept his costs to a minimum and was said to have amassed a fortune in the courts. His most spectacular victory was against the Daily Mirror, over an unsigned article that attacked him in retaliation for remarks he had made in the Commons about the newspaper's proprietor, Robert Maxwell. After Maxwell's dishonesty had been exposed, the Mirror had to pay Mr Allason a sum reputed to be around £230,000.

He overreached himself by taking the Mirror to court again, along with its political editor, Alastair Campbell. The case was thrown out in 1996 - although not before the judge said: "I did not find Mr Campbell a wholly satisfactory or convincing witness." He later secured a payment from the Mirror.

He lost outright in 1998, when he sued the BBC after Have I Got News for You referred to him as a "conniving little shit". The judge decided it was "mere abuse" and found in the BBC's favour. The presenter, Angus Deayton, repeated the "abuse" with glee.

Last autumn he had to pay costs to the journalist Andrew Roth after Mr Allason had rehashed a story dating back to the 1950s, when the FBI accused Mr Roth of being a Soviet agent.

Mr Allasonwas elected as the Conservative member for Torbay in 1987 but when he lost his seat in 1997 he was the architect of his own downfall. Two weeks before polling day, Mr Allason and a friend ate at the Thatched Tavern restaurant in Torbay. His failure to leave a tip caused the restaurant's waitresses - and their husbands - to switch their vote from Conservative to Liberal Democrat. In all, the waitresses estimated, the lack of a tip may have cost him 14 votes. He lost by 12.