The disgraced minister, his loyal wife, the media fixer and the wacky TV presenter

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Indy Politics

The woman who accuses Neil and Christine Hamilton of being present at her alleged rape first called Max Clifford in May with a different story.

The publicist is understood to have offered her tale of sex parties supposedly attended by the Hamiltons directly to Richard Desmond, owner of the Express titles. The story was investigated but never published.

At that stage there was no mention of rape. When the allegation was subsequently made Mr Clifford says he advised the woman to go to the police straight away.

"As far as I am concerned these are her allegations. I was not making any allegations," he said yesterday.

The Harrods boss, Mohammed Al Fayed, who is owed £1.5m by Mr Hamilton as the result of a libel case, has employed Mr Clifford as a public relations adviser in the past. But a spokesman for Mr Al Fayed last night dismissed the suggestion that he was behind the allegations as "a totally false trail". He added: "The allegations are a matter for the police; they are no concern of Mr Al Fayed whatsoever."

Mr Clifford has denied having any reason to make life difficult for the former Tory MP and his wife.

"I have no interest in the Hamiltons whatsoever," he told Radio 4. "I have only ever regarded them as light relief. Most of what they do I find incredibly amusing. I had nothing to do with any of the things that have gone on in their past."

Mr Hamilton resigned as a minister in the Department of Trade and Industry in 1994 after allegations that he had taken cash and gifts from Mr Al Fayed in return for asking questions in Parliament.

Three years later he lost his seat in Tatton, Cheshire, to the former war correspondent, Martin Bell, who stood on an anti-sleaze ticket. William Hague then asked Mr Hamilton to stay away from the Tory conference, as he had brought the party into disrepute.

Insisting on his innocence, the now former MP claimed Mr Al Fayed had made libellous allegations in the Channel 4 programme, Dispatches, but lost the case. The High Court upheld the verdict on appeal, and left the Hamiltons with a legal bill of £3m.

In April they put their six-bedroom Georgian rectory near Macclesfield up for sale at £1.35m. Mr Hamilton was declared bankrupt last month.

Having turned his back on life as a barrister – "a constipated profession" – Mr Hamilton wanted to reinvent himself as a media star in tandem with his formidable wife, author of the Bumper Book of Battleaxes.

Since their marriage during the 1983 election the Hamiltons have presented an eccentric (and often entertaining) version of marital bliss. Their oft-cited motto – WDTT ("We do things together") – certainly rings as true this weekend as it did at any point during the past few years.

Their every bid for dignity has been accompanied by high farce. When Neil and Christine held hands and bade a bitter farewell to Tatton on the election night podium in 1997, there in the background was fellow candidate Miss Moneypenny, a lanky transvestite crowned by a bird-cage. When they did find a publication that would take their side, it turned out, of all things, to be Living Marxism.

It happened again on Friday, when the press gathered outside their flat in Battersea. Inside with them was the luckiest man in television. Louis Theroux has been following the couple around, day and night, for a programme that will no doubt make sly fun of them. A statement by the BBC said filming had been going on for months, before the scandal broke.

Their decision to let him stay – and be seen at their side as the flashbulbs went off – was yet another indication of the Hamiltons' apparent willingness to shed their privacy at every opportunity.

It was evident on Friday night outside Barkingside police station when their lawyer, Michael Coleman, went into unexpected explicit sexual detail about the allegations they were denying.

A leading media lawyer yesterday described his counterpart's candour as unprecedented. "It's a high-risk strategy but they probably had no other alternative – and it may well pay off," said Mark Stephens, of Finers Stephens Innocent, whose clients have included Paul Gascoigne and Nick Faldo.

"There are two options in dealing with a case such as this," he said. "Discretion, dignity, silence, or to have a media campaign."

The Hamiltons may have felt they had no choice but to disclose "the full lurid details" before they become public in a much more sensationalised way, said Mr Stephens. "They are effectively saying 'these allegations are so outrageous that they are incredible'."

Mr Coleman said the Hamiltons had told detectives where they were the day the assault allegedly took place. "They have also given the police total access to all their private affairs, their telephone records, their credit card records and such like." No charges had been made against them or anyone else, he said.