Edited text of minister's response

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I was shocked and disgusted by the very serious allegations made against me in the Guardian newspaper this morning.

I have no hesitation in stating categorically that these allegations are wicked lies. I have therefore issued a writ for defamation against the Guardian, its Editor-in-Chief Peter Preston, and the journalist who wrote the article, Mr Pallister.

The main allegation headlined on the front page states that I tried to arrange girls for a Saudi prince and his entourage at Inglewood Health Hydro. This is an outrageous falsehood. Not only did I never do any such thing during my 11 years as a director of the Health Hydro, it should also be made clear that the prince in question, Prince Mohammed bin Fahd, the son of King Fahd, never stayed at Inglewood. His one and only short visit to Inglewood was for lunch some 13 years ago.

No girls were present and I made no suggestion that they should be present.

I must also mention that the former matron who has made this allegation was dismissed by Inglewood for dishonesty following a police investigation.

Criminal charges against the matron and another person were not pressed following the return of a large quantity of missing property.

The second allegation in the Guardian is the clear suggestion that while I was Minister of State for Defence Procurement from 1992-94 I had improper commercial relationships with two British citizens of Lebanese origin, Messrs Fouad and Ziad Makhzoumi who were helping British companies to sell defence equipment exports to Lebanon. This is another outrageous falsehood. The fact of the matter is that I was approached in late 1992 by the Makhzoumi brothers, who had been longstanding personal friends and former banking clients of mine, asking about defence sales possibilities in Lebanon.

As the Minister responsible for Defence Exports, I acted entirely correctly by turning the whole matter over to Ministry of Defence officials within the Defence Exports Sales Organisation. I believe that MoD records will show clearly that I acted with scrupulous propriety both by reporting any former relevant banking connection with the Makhzoumis to officials and by not participating directly in negotiations with the Makhzoumis.

As for the linked suggestion that I improperly failed to register my former banking directorship with the Makhzoumis' company, Future Management Services, in the Register of Members' Interests, I am confident that I acted entirely in accordance with the Register in not recording this non- remunerated directorship. There was no requirement to register such directorship until 1993.

The third article in the Guardian attacking me is a confusing old hat rehash of the creative collaboration between the newspaper and Mr Mohammed Al Fayed's Ritz Hotel in Paris, about alleged irregularities over my stay there in September, 1993.

Nothing shakes my conviction that my stay in the Ritz Hotel did not breach the rules governing the conduct of Ministers as laid down in Questions of Procedure for Ministers.

If there is anything new in the Guardian's latest regurgitation of this episode it seems to be the suggestion that I was in the hotel on an expenses- paid business visit arranged by a lady - a lady whom I have never met nor heard of - for the purpose of meeting three businessmen named for the first time in the article. Let me make it crystal-clear that not only did I not meet any of these three gentlemen in Paris, I am informed that none of them was staying at the Ritz during my visit of September 18/19. The total picture is therefore one of deliberate misrepresentations, falsehoods and lies, and is clearly part of the paper's long campaign of sustained attempts to discredit me.

Needless to say if these libels are repeated in the World in Action programme, then I shall take similar legal action against Granada Television. What a pity it is that World in Action refused me the opportunity to clear my name in front of the same public whom they are so keen to mislead.

I said at the outset that I was shocked but my sense of shock has not in any way weakened my sense of determination to fight this matter to a finish in the courts and elsewhere.

I believe my experience of various walks of life, including the experience of doing honourable business in the Middle East, has strengthened my ability to make such a contribution. And because I do have such a strong commitment to the ideal of public service, I would like to make it clear that I am taking legal action not simply to clear my own name and reputation of the deeply damaging slurs that have been cast upon me.

Here in Britain we have both the best media in the world and the worst media in the world.

That small latter element is spreading a cancer in our society today which I will call the cancer of bent and twisted journalism. The malignant cells of that bent and twisted journalistic cancer include those who engage in forgeries or other instruments of deceit to obtain information for the purposes of a smear story.

They include those who hold grievances or grudges of their own and are prepared to give or sell false testimony about others to further their own bitter agendas.

Above all, they include those who try to abuse media power to destroy or denigrate honourable institutions and individuals who have done nothing seriously wrong.

I have done nothing wrong.

I am prepared to stand on my record as a decent and honourable one and to defend it not only before the jury of the courts, but before the wider jury of all fair-minded people.

If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it, I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it.

My fight begins today.