Libel defeat for Hamilton

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The Independent Online

Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed has beaten off a libel action from former Tory MInister Neil Hamilton, who now faces a legal bill estimated at £1 million.

Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed has beaten off a libel action from former Tory MInister Neil Hamilton, who now faces a legal bill estimated at £1 million.

A High Court jury rejected Mr Hamilton's claim that he was libelled by the flamboyant retailer who had told the court that he had paid Mr Hamilton in cash for Parliamentary favours.

"Christmas has come early. This is total vindication," Mr Al Fayed said.

The jury's decision followed a month of testimony which ranged from Mr Hamilton's lavish taste in room service to MrAl Fayed's claim that Prince Philip had engineered the deaths of his son and Diana, Princess of Wales

The case contributed greatly to charges of "sleaze" which were so damaging to Prime Minister John Major's government before its disastrous defeat in the 1997 general election.

"If there were Olympic medals for lying, Mr. Fayed would be a prime contender for a gold one," Mr Hamilton's lawyer, Desmond Browne, said in his summing up last week.

Mr Al Fayed's attorney, George Carman QC, countered that Mr Hamilton was brought down by "his own greed, his own dealings with money and his own concealment of them."

Mr Hamilton resigned from his government post in 1994 and lost his seat in 1997 after Mr Al Fayed's accusations.

A Parliamentary committee reported in 1998 that there was compelling evidence Mr Hamilton accepted up to up to £25,000 from Mr Al Fayed but "no absolute proof."

It concluded that Mr Hamilton's conduct fell "seriously and persistently below the standards" expected of a lawmaker, and said he likely would have been suspended if had not already lost his seat.

A key issue in the libel case was the six-day stay at the Ritz in which Mr Hamilton and his wife, Christine, racked up charges averaging more than £350 a day.

"We certainly went over the top a bit," he testified.

Mr Hamilton's lawyer zeroed in on Mr Al Fayed's credibility by raising his charges that the British secret services had murdered his son Dodi and Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

Mr Browne asked him: "Did you not say that Prince Philip had masterminded it because he has German blood and Nazi views?"

"I have the right to say what I feel and what I believe," Mr Al Fayed responded.

His former personal assistant, Alison Bozek, testified that she had seen cash payments made to Hamilton.

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