I played a small part in the exposure of the Russian agent Sir Anthony Blunt whose memoirs were made public for the first time this week. I refer back to the story not solely to boast about a brilliant journalistic coup but because it illustrates the folly of going to law to protect your reputation.
Though many insiders knew Blunt was the so-called "fourth man" in the Russian spy ring, no one was in a position to prove it. This was why when Andrew Boyle published his book The Climate of Treason about the spies in in 1979, he was unable to name Blunt, who was referred to throughout as Maurice.
Aware that the book was about to be published but uncertain what it was going to say, Blunt instructed the libel lawyer Michael Rubenstein to write to the publishers demanding to see a copy in advance of publication.
When we published this titbit of legal news in Private Eye, it was the first time Blunt's name had been publicly linked to Boyle's book. It was enough to cause consternation in the government, and shortly afterwards Mrs Thatcher got up in Parliament and revealed the truth about Blunt.
Had Rubenstein not taken that fatal step, it is conceivable that Blunt might have lived out his days in quiet obscurity.
As for Rubenstein himself he later became involved with a sinister pseudo-religious cult called Exegesis. Its leader, one Robert D'Aubigny, recruited converts by shutting them up in a hotel for a weekend and subjecting them to a tirade of non-stop abuse. By a strange chance, one of those guarding the door to see that they didn't try to escape was Carole Caplin, the one-time topless model and later close friend and confidante of Cherie Blair.
Is this cash going down the drain?
Faced with the alarming increase in drug addiction, the Government now spends more than twice as much money (£800m) on what it calls treatment programmes than on targeting and pursuing the suppliers.
It may be comforting for people to hear about treatment, apart from the fact nobody is quite clear about what is involved, let alone whether or not it has any effect. Doubts arise because anyone who has any experience of drug addiction (which nowadays means a great many of us one way or another) is well aware just how difficult it is to wean an addict away from drugs.
For a start, as everyone agrees, nothing can be done unless the addict genuinely wants to give up. That rules out the great majority of addicts. One newspaper report spoke yesterday of "forcing heroin addicts to quit". It was not spelled out just how that was going to be done.
Then it turns out that when the Government talks of addicts being weaned off heroin, all that has actually happened is that they have become addicted to another, allegedly less harmful drug, methadone. The conclusion we have to draw is that all the talk about treatment amounts to precious little. Seldom mentioned is the fact that the only results in this field are achieved by Narcotics Anonymous, a large voluntary group independent of government which does not benefit from the £800m honey pot.
Stay away from libel actions
For any litigant, the most frustrating thing about the law courts is the way in which the lawyers invariably rule out of order all the evidence which the layman thinks is most relevant to the case.
In this week's comic libel action brought by Mr Richard Desmond, against the author Tom Bower, the judge, as reported in The Independent yesterday, ruled that the word pornographer was not to be mentioned in relation to Mr Desmond, a man who has made a huge fortune out of top-shelf magazines and porno television channels. Yet if, as Desmond frequently stated, he was so concerned about the damage done to his reputation, then it was surely relevant to consider the nature of his precious reputation and whether it was quite as prestigious as he seemed to think.
It reminded me of a libel action brought by another press baron Robert Maxwell, in which I was involved. "Mr Ingrams, why do you have such a low opinion of Mr Maxwell?" his lawyer asked when I finally made it into the witness box. I was about to reply that it all had something to do with the famous DTI report into Maxwell's defunct Pergamon Press, a report which concluded with the unqualified judgement that Maxwell was not a fit person to be in charge of a public company.
But the judge intervened. "We know very well what you are about to say but I have to tell you that no reference to that matter may be made in this action." After that it all went predictably downhill.Reuse content