`I took all steps to be well briefed' come 4/30 pt of spacey type type

BY CHRIS BLACKHURST

and TIM LAXTON

Jonathan Aitken worked hard for his £10,000 a year as a director of BMARC. He did far more than attend the occasional board meeting in Grantham, Lincolnshire.

"Like any responsible non-executive," wrote Mr Aitken earlier this month, "I took all reasonable steps to become well briefed on the company's activities. In my case, these steps included receiving briefings from the managing director and other executive directors of the company; visiting the company's factory, testing facilities and offices; talking to executives and employees in the course of these visits and generally obtaining a rounded picture of the company's current activities and future prospects."

The MP would meet directors in London, see them for lunch at their offices in St James's Place, London. With Gerald James, the company's former chairman, he went to Geneva, to introduce him to well-connected Saudi Arabian contacts.

Through an intermediary, the MP managed to secure a contract for BMARC to supply weapons to minesweepers being built for Saudi Arabia by Vosper Thorneycroft.

The company and the MP developed increasingly close links in the 1980s. From going to him with routine political problems, Astra started to ask him to help with business matters as well. In July 1987, the company told him it was looking for a public relations adviser. Mr Aitken suggested a friend, Maureen Tomison.

Ms Tomison subsequently formed her own lobbying firm, Decision Makers. It was this firm, with Angela Rumbold MP, the Tory party vice-chairman on its board, that was at the centre of the recent row about the decision to award the Channel Rail terminal to Ebbsfleet in Kent.

For Astra, Decision Makers lobbied the Government to try to secure a review of a contract awarding 80 per cent of the MoD's munitions orders to Royal Ordnance, its arch-rival. Ms Tomison spoke to George Younger, then Secretary of State for Defence.

In September 1988, Mr Aitken joined the BMARC board. In June 1992, when he was appointed minister for defence procurement, the MoD explained his BMARC appointment, saying: "Astra suggested he should become a director of BMARC, saying that his experience as an international merchant banker would be helpful ... Mr Aitken quite properly had several discussions with members of the BMARC board about exports to various countries."

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