Battle of the tycoons that led to saga of disgrace grace

It started in Mohamed al Fayed's sumptuous office in Harrods and by last night was stalling the start of the Conservative offensive in the election campaign.

The battle between Mr Fayed and Lonrho's Tiny Rowland for the Knightsbridge store led to lobbyist Ian Greer dispensing money to some 40 MPs and candidates, mainly Tory, as Mr Fayed sought political support in the Commons.

Flush with Mr Fayed's cash, Mr Greer paid for questions to be asked in Parliament, and meetings to be arranged with ministers.

Sir Michael Grylls, the Tory MP with whom he had a longstanding relationship, received at least pounds 86,000 in payments from Mr Greer. Other Tory MPs who received cash include Neil Hamilton, who now admits having received pounds 10,000 from Mr Greer without declaring it; Tim Smith, MP for Beaconsfield, who resigned as Northern Ireland minister when it emerged he had accepted cash to ask questions for Mr Fayed (sum later estimated at between pounds 18,000 and pounds 25,000); Sir Andrew Bowden, MP for Brighton Kemptown who admits that he received election expenses of pounds 5,319 which were not declared on his election return or with the register of members' interests; and Michael Brown, MP for Cleethorpes, who admits receiving pounds 6,000 from Mr Greer to lobby for a manufacturer of tobacco chewing gum and not declaring it on the register.

Five other Tories are still under investigation by Sir Gordon Downey but Sir Gordon has stressed that this does not imply that there is any substance to the allegations against them. They are: Sir Peter Hordern, who is standing down, Lady Olga Maitland, Norman Lamont, Gerry Malone and Nirj Deva.

Mr Fayed also wanted to be a British citizen, but was being blocked. He couldn't understand why all the money he had paid out had not reaped any benefits. Back home in Egypt, he would have got anything done for that kind of money. Eventually, he began to tell his tales to journalists.

In September 1994, he summoned Brian Hitchen, editor of the Sunday Express to his office and told him the tales of cash for questions and other allegations against MPs. He specifically named Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith.

Mr Hitchen alerted John Major to the allegations, and the Prime Minister set up an inquiry headed by Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary. While many of Mr Fayed's allegations may have proved unfounded, his scattergun approach hit a few targets and led to the libel case which was to expose the murky relationship between MPs and lobbyists to the public gaze.

Five days before Sir Robin Butler's inquiry was published, towards the end of October, the Guardian ran a story about cash for questions involving Mr Smith and Mr Hamilton. Mr Smith held up his hands and went quickly, but Mr Hamilton demurred, and only eventually resigned because, according to Mr Major, there were other allegations to be investigated.

Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer launched a libel campaign against the Guardian that was to prove their undoing. Days before it was due to reach court in October 1996, first Mr Greer, then Mr Hamilton pulled out.

The focus turned to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, whose post had been created as a result of the Nolan Committee, itself set up as a result of Mr Fayed's allegations. Sir Gordon began an inquiry which he was to have presented to the Standards and Privileges Committee, another Nolan innovation.

Sir Gordon amassed another set of documents and was expecting to present his findings to the committee next Tuesday. But the unexplained 19-day gap between the prorogation (the suspension of activity) and the dissolution of Parliament on 8 April meant that the committee had no chance to deliberate on it before the election.

As a result of that, the documents were leaked yesterday - sparking off another round in the saga that started because Mr Fayed got the better of Mr Rowland in the Harrods takeover battle.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'