Bankrupt, disgraced and ridiculed – but still the Hamiltons stand and fight their corner

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The Independent Online

"We, the victims, have our names and faces plastered all over the newspapers and television all around the country," Neil Hamilton said with calculated pathos yesterday as his wife clung loyally to his side.

The bankrupt, disgraced and frequently lampooned former Conservative trade minister then launched into a diatribe about the "great injustice" that granted their accuser anonymity while they faced the blinding glare of the media – before departing with a television documentary team in tow.

Mr Hamilton, 52, obviously saw little irony in the fact that the couple themselves had added to the media feeding frenzy by publicly giving details of the allegations of sexual assault against them and, in an unprecedented move, handing over taped police interviews to a Sunday newspaper.

Love them or loathe them, it is hard not to appreciate such sang-froid at a time when most people, politicians or not, would cower in humiliation.

No one, of course would ever expect a couple who volunteered to be the butt of hilarity on the BBC's Have I Got News for You, even to the extent of receiving their appearance fee in a brown envelope, to do anything quietly.

The pair, after all, remained unbowed throughout the storm surrounding his resignation as trade minister in the cash-for-questions scandal, the loss of his Tatton seat to the "anti-sleaze" Independent Martin Bell and the defeat of his libel action (and appeal) against the Harrods owner, Mohamed Al Fayed. Their defiance has remained constant despite the consequent bankruptcy, which will now see them lose their £1.35m Cheshire home.

These latest allegations take their public exposure to new heights, involving as they do accusations of a serious and highly salacious nature.

Yet after their arrest and release on bail on Friday, they quickly offered details of the accusations. Mrs Hamilton memorably said that she was a "banana" if the story was true. It was "nonsense on stilts".

The apparent candour has in effect created open season on the Hamiltons once more. Their denials have been printed in detail, as have the alleged victim's claims.

The young woman involved in the case was also given an opportunity yesterday to describe the "orgy of depravity", which the Hamiltons' own solicitor, Michael Coleman, had discussed in unexpected detail on the steps of Barkingside police station.

The blonde, described as a 28-year-old divorced mother, said in some Sunday newspapers that she had met a man claiming to be the chauffeur of "Lord and Lady Hamilton" in an internet chat room. Having travelled from Grimsby to London to visit a sick grandmother, she said she met "Barry" on May 5 and was taken to his Ilford flat. She was given a glass of red wine, which made her "dizzy", before Mr and Mrs Hamilton and another man arrived. After an increasingly lewd conversation, she said she was forced to strip and was raped by "Barry" while Mr Hamilton and the other man stimulated themselves. Mrs Hamilton, she alleged, sat on top of her.

In turn, however, she has been "exposed" by her ex- husband as a woman who has cried rape before, enjoyed three-in-a-bed romps at Butlins Holiday Camp and lived in a "sexual fantasy land". She denies all of these claims.

The young woman, it seems, went to the renowned publicist Max Clifford with her story – having already contacted him on a previous occasion – before reporting it to the police.

The Hamiltons were pictured yesterday in The Mail on Sunday sitting on a bed at their London home next to transcripts of their police interview tapes.

In the interview with Detective Constable Richard Rees, Mrs Hamilton is described as "snorting" with laughter at the accusations.

She denied attending "swingers" parties, insisting she had been unaware of what they were until Louis Theroux – the BBC documentary maker who was invited to accompany them to the police station – had enlightened her.

A surprising comment, perhaps, for a woman who researched the brothel owner Cynthia Payne for her Bumper Book of Battleaxes.

She also denied owning a "Tory" blue dress as her accuser described, before admitting she did have one which she had not worn for "yonks". Red was her colour, she insisted.

She told the officer – as did her husband – that they were hosting a dinner party for friends Diana Rasbach, and former lobbyist Derek Laud, as well as the businessman Tony Tucker and his daughter Lucy, on the night of May 5 this year.

Asked if she knew the alias of Barry Lehaney, her fellow accused – James Hamilton – she responded: "I know a Lord James Hamilton but I imagine it is not him."

In the interview, she denied ever visiting a flat in Ilford, though later recalls addressing a charity lunch in the town. In fact, it was hard to decide whether she was more insulted at being accused of sexual depravity or visiting the Essex town. "If we were going to go to a sex party we would go to one in Kensington or Chelsea," she joked. But when she learnt that police officers had seized her computers, Mrs Hamilton broke down in tears.

The publication of the interviews was described as "extremely rare", if not unprecedented, last night by a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman, who said it would be up to a judge to decide whether it was detrimental to any possible trial.

A police source said: "We were not surprised. They were instantly bought up. It was obvious that was the way they were handling this from the fact they turned up at the police station with a film crew. When an interview is being conducted both the police and solicitor are entitled to make recordings. What the legal side can do with the recordings is ... up to them."

Yesterday The Mail on Sunday was unwilling to discuss whether the couple had been paid for their co-operation.

And then, last but only least in terms of media attractiveness, was Mr Lehaney himself. Was it not for the Hamiltons, Mr Lehaney would surely have merited little attention. Yesterday, however, the 60-year-old, who has arthritis, protested his innocence. The former financial adviser said he did not even know the former MP and his wife. He denied even being attracted to the girl he described as "plump" and a disturbed fantasist to boot.

With the Sunday newspapers bulging at the seams with graphic detail, Mr Hamilton nevertheless went on a very public jog in Battersea park yesterday before posing with his wife – wearing red, of course.

"All I would like to say is this – this morning's newspapers make it absolutely clear that these allegations are a complete tissue of lies and fabrications," Mr Hamilton said.

"The mystery is that the police have taken them seriously enough to arrest two totally innocent people before they have heard their side of the story.

"The other public scandal that needs to be addressed is that the person who has made these allegations is able to shelter behind anonymity, whereas we, the victims, have our names and faces plastered all over the newspapers and television all around the country, along with these most grotesque and disgusting allegations. That's a great injustice which must be righted."

Have you ever been to Barkingside? (and some other questions in the police interrogation)

Neil Hamilton

Detective Inspector Terence Summers: Have you ever been to 55 Avenue Court in Ilford?

Neil Hamilton: I would have no idea where that is...

TS: Do you know ******? [He gives NH the name of the alleged victim and three photographs of her.]

NH: It is a young blonde woman lying on her bed holding a cuddly toy. No.

TS: Do you attend sex parties?

NH: No ...

TS: I have got to put it to you sir, that we have received this allegation that you have indecently assaulted this young lady and that you, along with your wife, an unknown man and a named man have got her in this flat and whilst there you have assisted in restraining her on the floor and performed a sort of act of indecent assault upon her. Have you any comment to make?

NH: Well, it is wholly false and the girl is either hallucinating or it is part of a malicious fabrication and, given Mr Clifford is involved, I suspect the latter ...

TS: Have you any views on taking part in an identification parade?

Michael Coleman, Neil Hamilton's solicitor: I think it would be wholly inappropriate ... you have said yourselves that the young lady has recognised Mr and Mrs Hamilton from television and publicity photographs. If I intended to make an allegation against Michael Jackson [the pop star] and you stood him in a line with a bunch of other people, I would be able to pick him out straight away...

NH: I would get her, if I were you, to describe my physical features, the colour of my eyes and the colour of my hair, etc.

MC: Has she said whether Mr Hamilton was circumcised or not?

TS: No.

MC: Have you asked her?

TS: To be honest, no. Have you any distinguishing marks? Scars, tattoos or abnormalities, sir?

NH: Well, I have no tattoos but I think you should get a description from her before I say anything about my body because my body will be there for you to look at any time ...

Christine Hamilton

Detective Constable Richard Rees: I would ask you to account for your movements on 5 May 2001

Christine Hamilton: We had people for dinner that evening. It would have been three courses and cheese. I actually can't remember what we gave them, perhaps I made jellied Bloody Marys, one of my specialities.

RR: Do you know anyone by the name of Barry Lehaney, who also uses the name James Hamilton?

CH: I know a Lord James Hamilton but I imagine it is not him.

RR: Have you ever been to 55 Avenue Court in Barkingside, Ilford, Essex?

CH: No

RR: It is a ground floor flat.

CH: No. I have never been to a flat in Ilford in my life. I went there once last year when I came to address a charity lunch. I believe it was the League of Jewish Women and it was held in a synagogue in the Ilford area. There was a Rabbi present.

RR: Do you visit internet porn sites?

CH: (With a snort of laughter): No, sorry.

RR: Do you attend swingers' parties?

CH: No, I only know what a swingers' party is because I recently met Mr Louis Theroux who has made a programme about them and I understand from him that a swingers' party is a wife or husband-swapping party.

RR: I have to put the allegations to you ...

CH: It is completely and utterly false in every particular. There is no truth in it whatsoever.

RR: Can I ask you what you were wearing that evening?

CH: Not a blue dress. I don't have one. I understand that I was alleged to be wearing a blue dress during the assault. I was probably wearing trousers and a top of some sort. It wasn't a formal dinner so I was dressed smart-casual. [Added later]: I do have one blue dress, a long crepe dress with a round collar and sleeveless. I have not worn it for yonks because I do not wear blue. The colour I am associated with is red. I know blue is a Tory colour which could be why it was auto-suggestive, but Mr Clifford ought to have done his homework. He knows I wear red.

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