This document is taken from Section Eight of:-
A Dastardly Campaign
The conspiracy to bring about The Guardian’s ownership of the Sunday newspaper, The Observer, through a smear campaign directed against its proprietor, editor and staff
Jonathan Boyd Hunt
Chapter One: Background: March 1985 - June 1987 4
Chapter Two: First Victim 12
Chapter Three: More Journalists Sacrificed to the Cause 17
Chapter Four: Defend an Enemy and Smear a Friend: All Part of the Plot 25
Chapter Five: More Evidence Vindicating The Observer’s Staff 32
Final Word 38
Within months of beginning research in May 1997 into The Guardian’s ‘cash for questions’ campaign, freelance journalists Jonathan Boyd Hunt & Malcolm Keith-Hill identified evidence that The Guardian’s staff had forged documents and lied in its reporting and signed witness statements to shore up its defence to libel actions brought against the paper by Conservative MP Neil Hamilton and the lobbyist Ian Greer.
Over the following months Hunt & Keith-Hill identified several of those involved in The Guardian’s conspiracy, one of whom was The Guardian’s comment editor David Leigh, and a Labour Member of Parliament named Dale Campbell-Savours.
Further research by the two freelances unearthed evidence of another campaign involving Leigh and Campbell-Savours which had also gone undetected: a campaign to undermine Lonrho’s ownership of The Observer newspaper by smearing its proprietor and journalists.
Their objective was to create the prevailing view in the media, and through the media British society, that Lonrho’s chief executive Roland ‘Tiny’ Rowland was an ‘interfering proprietor’ who dictated stories to his staff to further Lonrho’s business interests, and therefore a person who was clearly unfit to run a newspaper. For the plan to work Leigh and Campbell-Savours also needed to characterise The Observer’s editor and staff as “Rowland’s lapdogs” who willingly wrote up stories that their proprietor wanted publishing.
Neither Campbell-Savours nor Leigh were troubled by the fact that their actions would result in decent journalists having their reputations tarnished: the evidence shows that they colluded and undertook separate but complementary activities in Parliament and in the media alleging that The Observer’s journalists wrote up articles, even false articles, at Rowland’s behest. The British media’s favourite newspaper, The Guardian, then gave these allegations a full airing, which other journalists then repeated, until the charge: “Rowland dictates stories to his poodles” became etched into the annals of history as fact.
It is inconceivable that this plan did not have the collusion of The Guardian’s editor Peter Preston and The Guardian’s chairman Hugo Young, and far more likely that Preston had actually instigated it himself with Young’s blessing.
Preston and Young certainly had the motivation. He and The Guardian’s board, the Scott Trust, chaired by Young, had for years tried to buy the Sunday Observer to put The Guardian on an equal footing with Britain’s other broadsheets. However, Tiny Rowland had refused all of Preston’s offers to buy the paper. The thinking behind the scheme that Preston, Leigh, and Campbell-Savours hatched was that the Lonrho board would end up believing the “interfering proprietor” charge and become so weary of the bad publicity that they would eventually sell The Observer over Rowland’s head, whereupon The Guardian would pounce and acquire it for itself.
Which, as it happens, is what eventually took place a few years later on 1 June 1993.
As a consequence of this campaign, the standing of The Observer’s editor, Donald Trelford; the paper’s political editor, Adam Raphael; and its City editor, Melvyn Marckus; were ruined. Moreover, the painstaking research undertaken by Marckus and his two financial journalists Lorana Sullivan and Michael Gillard, plus freelance Peter Wickman, which had exposed one of the political scandals of the age worthy of the highest press awards, were also damaged beyond recovery.
This document proves that the charges against Tiny Rowland and The Observer’s journalists under his proprietorship are entirely without foundation.
Background: March 1985 — June 1987
Dale Campbell-Savours’ & David Leigh’s attacks on The Observer began on 23 March 1989. However, as will become clear later, to determine whether their allegations of editorial interference have any validity one has to examine events that began four years earlier in March 1985, when Mohamed Al Fayed and his brothers made their full bid for the Harrods store chain House of Fraser.
15 February 1984: Three MPs who sat on the Conservative back-bench trade & industry Committee — namely its chairman Michael Grylls, its secretary Tim Smith, and its vice-chairman Neil Hamilton — take an interest in a battle for the ownership of Harrods department store being waged by controversial tycoon Tiny Rowland of Lonrho plc.
The Conservative backbench trade & industry committee is not an official parliamentary committee, but rather a Conservative Party committee made up of backbench Conservative MPs, whose purpose is to act as the conduit through which backbench opinion on trade & industry matters is communicated to the Secretary of State for Trade & Industry and his junior ministers.
The three Conservative MPs had been invited to lunch by Professor Roland Smith, chairman of House of Fraser, parent of Harrods. Professor Smith had invited the MPs to give them a briefing on how the controversial tycoon, Tiny Rowland, Chief Executive of mining-to-retailing conglomerate Lonrho plc, was making hostile manoeuvres to buy the company. Professor Smith and the majority of the Fraser board were against Lonrho owning Harrods — as was the Conservative government, which had forced Lonrho to give undertakings not to mount a bid for the company until cleared by the government to do so.
ON SUNDAY 3 MARCH 1985 the House of Fraser board recommended acceptance of a £615 million bid for the company from Mohamed Al Fayed and his two brothers.
The special board meeting took place at a suite in the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. The Fayed brothers’ bid had the full backing of House of Fraser’s chairman, professor Roland Smith. It was based on an offer document prepared by the Fayeds’ merchant bankers, Kleinwort Benson, which stated that the Fayeds’ wealth had been generated over generations through cotton and shipping interests.
Lonrho, which had itself aspired to owning House of Fraser, had been prevented from making a bid of its own as a consequence of undertakings that the company had been forced to give the Office of Fair Trading.
ON 7 MARCH 1985 London’s Evening Standard published a story airing Tiny Rowland’s claims that Mohamed Al Fayed’s bid was being financed by the Sultan of Brunei.
The story, entitled ‘Tiny points to Sultan as bidder’, reported that Lonrho’s chief executive Tiny Rowland claimed to possess copies of documents proving that Fayed had acquired the Sultan of Brunei’s powers of attorney, such as one which had empowered Fayed to purchase the Dorchester Hotel on the Sultan’s behalf a few months earlier.
ON 8 MARCH 1985 the London Evening Standard’s stablemate, The Daily Mail, published a prominent full-page article endorsing Mohammed Al Fayed’s claimed wealth.
The article, by Brian Vine, entitled: ‘The Pharaoh who’s poised to rule Harrods’, reported as fact the false statements of the Fayeds’ wealth and background contained in the offer document for House of Fraser prepared by the Fayeds’ merchant bankers, Kleinwort Benson, and other false statements culled from press handouts concocted by Fayed’s PR guru, Brian Basham, of PR company Broad Street Associates.
The high profile that the Mail gave the article had the effect of neutralising Tiny Rowland’s allegations, as aired in the Mail’s sister paper the Evening Standard, the day before.
ON 10 MARCH 1985 The Sunday Times published a prominent article endorsing the Fayed brothers’ claimed wealth.
The article, by City Editor Ivan Fallon, entitled: ‘Selling the national jewels’, followed the line in the Mail article with a few embellishments. The most notorious of these concerned the claim that the Fayeds’ grandfather had grown cotton along the Nile delta which was then shipped in his own freighters to England, to which Fallon had added a rider that this cotton had then been spun in Lancashire and had ended up as bed linen sold in Harrods. Another new claim was that Fayed’s son, Dodi, ‘had been to Sandhurst’.
Vine referred to Tiny Rowland’s claim that Fayed was using the Sultan’s cash and belittled it by referring to the list of assets that the Fayed brothers supposedly owned around the world.
ON 10 MARCH 1985 The Observer published an article airing Tiny Rowland’s claims that Mohamed Al Fayed was using the Sultan of Brunei’s cash to buy Harrods.
Penned by City Editor Melvyn Marckus and entitled ‘This bloody Harrods battle’, Marckus warned that the Fayeds’ bid for House of Fraser remained unchallenged whilst Lonrho remained bound by undertakings not to bid for the stores group. Marckus aired the opinions of Egyptian diplomat Dr Ashraf Marwan and Fayed’s former brother-in-law, Adnan Khashoggi, that Fayed’s wealth could not possibly exceed $100 million — i.e. one tenth of the bid. Fayed immediately issued a libel writ against The Observer.
ON 11 MARCH 1985 Mohamed Al Fayed won control of House of Fraser.
The deal was given the immediate blessing of Margaret Thatcher and her Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, Norman Tebbit, who accepted the Fayeds’ bankers’ & solicitors’ endorsements of their claims that they had acquired their wealth from cotton and shipping interests going back generations.
ON 14 MARCH 1985 Trade Secretary Norman Tebbit announced that he would not refer the Fayeds’ bid to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission or the Office of Fair Trading.
The deal went through immediately. Later that same day, though the gesture was now worthless, Tebbit finally removed from Lonrho its undertakings which had prevented it from bidding for the stores group.
Later that evening, Mohamed Al Fayed attended a banquet at No. 10 Downing Street in the honour of President Mubarak of Egypt. Fayed sat next to Thatcher’s daughter, Carol, during the meal. The invitation had been arranged by Margaret Thatcher’s personal adviser, Sir Gordon Reece, who, incidentally, also had a luxury suite in Fayed’s (heavily bugged) apartment block in Park Lane.
ON 17 MARCH 1985 The Observer ran another major article by City Editor Melvyn Marckus.
The article raised questions concerning: a) Mohamed’s past employment by his then brother-in-law, Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi; b) Mohamed’s former dealings in Dubai on behalf of the UAE’s former Ambassador to Washington, Mahdi Al Tajir; c) Fayed’s claimed shipping interests; d) Fayed’s mysterious financial dealings in Haiti; and so on. Within the article, entitled, ‘Harrods and the Sphinx’, Marckus opined:
We concluded that the House of Fraser bid by the Fayeds should have been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission or investigated by the Department of Trade Inspectors.
Mohamed Fayed responded by issuing another libel writ against The Observer.
ON 21 MARCH 1985 The Guardian ran a feature by its own financial staff, concurring with the doubts about Fayed’s claims raised by The Observer.
Written by Andrew Cornelius, Geoffrey Gibbs, and Mary Brasher, and entitled ‘The great £615 million shopping bag’, The Guardian journalists raised doubts over each of the claims contained in the offer document produced by Kleinwort Benson, and posed many questions to which The Guardian had not received answers.
ON 25 APRIL 1985 the Sultan of Brunei removed from Mohamed Al Fayed all his powers of attorney.
ON 31 MAY 1985 the Financial Times ran a feature written by its expert on Arab affairs, also endorsing the stance of The Observer’s City Desk.
The article, written by Duncan Campbell-Smith, and entitled ‘The mystery of the Al-Fayeds’, was a detailed dissection of the Fayeds’ claims, including Kleinwort Benson’s suggestion that the brothers owned 40 ships, plying the Mediterranean sea. Campbell-Smith revealed that the Fayeds actually owned only three ships, one of which had been wrecked on a sandbank three years earlier.
Mohamed Al Fayed issued a writ against the Financial Times, following which the paper apologised for the article.
During June and July, prior to the dissolution of parliament for the Summer recess, front bench Opposition MPs tabled a number of parliamentary questions based on information sourced from the The Observer’s, Guardian’s and Financial Times’ articles, probing ministers on the government’s handling of the Harrods sale.
ON 4 AUGUST 1985 The Observer sensationally revealed that a senior aide to the Sultan of Brunei was also a director of a Liechtenstein company owned by Mohamed Fayed.
The article, by investigative journalist Lorana Sullivan, reveals that one of the Sultan of Brunei's closest confidants was also a director of the Liechtenstein shelf company owned by Fayed, Hyde Park SA, into which Fayed had transferred hundreds of millions of dollars from the Sultan’s accounts prior to making his bid for House of Fraser.
The implication of her article was clear — the discovery substantiates further The Observer’s assertions that Mohamed Fayed had indeed used the Sultan of Brunei’s funds to buy Harrods.
By October Mohamed ‘Al’ Fayed and his brother Ali had become increasingly concerned that Tiny Rowland might succeed in persuading the government to open up an inquiry into their acquisition of Harrods. Ali Fayed met Lord King of British Airways by chance and complained bitterly about Rowland’s barracking of Parliament. Lord King recommended BA’s lobbyist, Ian Greer, who had been very effective in representing the airline’s interests. Fayed subsequently invited Greer to his offices at 60 Park Lane.
During the meeting Fayed protested that Rowland’s allegations were untrue, citing House of Fraser’s solicitors Herbert Smith and its merchant bankers Kleinwort Benson as supporting his claimed wealth and background. It was not lost on Greer that leading Conservatives were among the Fayeds’ supporters, including the treasurer of the Conservative Party, Lord McAlpine; the former Trade Secretary Norman Tebbit; the Defence Minister Michael Heseltine; and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself. Consequently Greer believed Fayed’s claims that he and his brothers were being victimised by Rowland unjustly; and believed further that cultivating support for the Fayeds against Rowland would be popular at the highest level of the Conservative Party.
ON 5 NOVEMBER 1985 lobbyist Ian Greer signed a contract worth £25,000 per annum, to lobby MPs and ministers on the Fayed brothers’ behalf.
Greer’s managing director, Andrew Smith, immediately set about enlisting support from the three members of the Conservative back-bench trade & industry committee who had sympathised with the stand against Tiny Rowland taken by Harrods’ chairman, Professor Roland Smith, during a luncheon at Harrods eighteen months earlier. Andrew Smith contacted the committee’s chairman, Michael Grylls; its secretary, Tim Smith; and its vice-chairman, Neil Hamilton.
Mohamed Al Fayed’s purchase of House of Fraser had been supported by the government and also by Professor Smith. In contrast Opposition MPs were generally supportive of Rowland’s attacks on Fayed and the government. Accordingly the three MPs agreed in principle to support Fayed’s position. The three Conservativeness stated that another factor in their decision to support the Fayeds was the constant stream of anti-Conservative articles appearing in the pages of the Lonrho-owned Observer.
Neil Hamilton agreed immediately to table two written questions probing the roles of The Observer’s independent directors.
[Prompted by a combination of Greer’s co-ordinating efforts and the attacks on the government by Tiny Rowland’s Labour supporters, over the next 3½ years up to April 1989 the three Conservatives, plus Tory MP Sir Andrew Bowden, supported Fayed’s stance against Rowland thus:
Michael Grylls limited his support to attending delegations to successive Trade Secretaries. He tabled no questions or parliamentary motions, nor asked any oral questions from the Floor of the House.
Tim Smith initiated 1 adjournment debate, tabled 27 written questions and 1 motion, asked 1 oral question, and attended 4 delegations to successive Trade Secretaries.
Neil Hamilton tabled 9 written questions and 3 motions, and attended 2 of the 4 delegations to Trade Secretaries. Hamilton never once spoke from the Floor of the House on any matter relating to Mohamed Al Fayed or Lonhro.
Sir Andrew Bowden tabled 6 written questions taking Fayed’s side against Rowland.
Note: during the 3½ year period between Neil Hamilton’s first and last action relating to the Fayed-Rowland battle, Hamilton tabled 216 written questions relating to other issues. During the same period Opposition MPs such as Bryan Gould, Ian Wrigglesworth, Tony Banks, Dale Campbell-Savours, Jeff Rooker, Tam Dalyell, Chris Mullin, Gerald Bermingham, Brian Sedgemore, Charles Kennedy, Doug Hoyle, and Ron Brown—plus back-bench Conservative MP Teddy Taylor—asked scores of questions supporting Tiny Rowland’s and Sir Edward du Cann’s barracking of the government to open up an inquiry into the Harrods sale.]
On 10 January 1986 satirical magazine Private Eye alleged that in October 1984 Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, had accompanied Mohamed Al Fayed on a trip to see the Sultan of Brunei
The article, by hard-Left Daily Mirror journalist Paul Foot, reported that Mark was representing a construction company with ambitions of winning a contract to build a new university for the tiny Sultanate. It was suggested that Mark had taken with him a letter of introduction from the Minister of Finance of Oman, who had granted a similar university construction contract to the British construction company Cementation in April 1981, for whom Mark had worked as a front man at the time to help seal the deal.
The article hinted that the company on whose behalf Mark had acted on the Brunei trip could have been the British conglomerate Trafalgar House, for whom Mark was said to have acted previously.
The timing of the trip — October 1994 — is highly significant insofar that it was on 30 October 1984 that Trade Minister Norman Tebbit inexplicably extended by another 90 days the Monopolies & Mergers Commission’s investigation into Lonrho’s bid for House of Fraser, which had prevented Lonrho for bidding for Harrods and which had facilitated Fayed’s pre-emptive acquisition.
Following the revelations in Private Eye Tiny Rowland supplied The Observer with information about the dates of the flights to and from Brunei (24 & 26 Oct.), the route taken (via Singapore), and that the aircraft used was Mohamed Al Fayed's own private Gulf Stream executive jet - three bold statements of fact, which, if untrue, Fayed would have been able to disprove easily by reference to his diary and his Gulf Stream's flight log.
Armed with the information Observer editor Donald Trelford turned to his hard-Left political journalist David Leigh to write up an article. Leigh was the paper's resident 'expert' on Mark Thatcher, having been responsible for authoring some twelve articles between January and April 1984 on the Prime Minister’s son’s dealings in Oman. However Leigh refused, claiming that the story was a “Rowland plant” — though its source, Paul Foot, was a friend and political soul mate of Leigh who had no connection with The Observer and little regard for Tiny Rowland.
ON 12 JANUARY 1986 The Observer published a sensational article implying that Margaret Thatcher and Mohamed Al Fayed had colluded over the sale of Harrods.
The article, written by The Observer’s editor, Donald Trelford, alleged that Thatcher’s son, Mark, had accompanied Fayed on a trip to see the Sultan just days before the government had extended its block on Lonrho being allowed to bid for House of Fraser.
The article, entitled ‘Mark Thatcher’s mystery trip to see Sultan’, stated that Mark Thatcher and Fayed had flown to Brunei in Fayed’s private Gulf Stream jet, arriving on 24 October 1984 and leaving for London on the 26th. Trelford pointed out that this alleged trip took place less than a week prior to Trade minister Norman Tebbit’s decision on 30 October 1984 to extend by 90 days the government inquiry into Lonrho’s bid for House of Fraser — which had caused Tiny Rowland, in despair, to fall for Fayed’s con-trick and sell the Egyptian Lornho’s 29.99% stake in House of Fraser.
The irresistible inference from the article was that this alleged trip had influenced Tebbit into providing the Fayeds with sufficient time to buy the stores group before he removed from Lonrho the constraints that were preventing it from making its own bid.
Though Trelford gave both Mark Thatcher and Fayed the opportunity to deny the story, Mark Thatcher conspicuously failed to do so (which remains the case today), despite the ease with which he could have disproved the story by showing his passport, or producing other evidence that showed he had been elsewhere during the dates specified.
Fayed, on the other hand, did deny the story. However, he too refrained from presenting his passport for examination. He also refrained from providing his private jet’s flight movements during the dates specified, which would also have disproved the story.
Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours immediately cited the Mark Thatcher article to barrack the government.
Within days Campbell-Savours tabled for the attention of Trade Secretary Leon Brittan five written questions raised by Trelford’s piece. All his questions accepted the article’s premise—that Mark Thatcher had visited Brunei with Fayed—to add to the government’s troubles caused by Tiny Rowland. He asked the Secretary of State for Trade & Industry:
To comment on if the Secretary of State will seek the permission of Mr R. W. Rowland, Chief Executive of Lonrho, to publish the letter to him from Mr Rowland of December 1985 regarding the takeover of House of Fraser
Further to 89 c634W, to comment on if the DTI received any other representations apart from request from the Monopolies & Mergers Commission, seeking an extension of the period for the Commission to report on the merger references of Lonrho & House of Fraser
To comment on if any discussions took place between representatives of the Sultan of Brunei & the DTI on the takeover of the House of Fraser
To comment on if the Secretary of State will publish his reply to the letter he received in December 1985 from Mr R. W. Rowland, Chief Executive of Lonrho, regarding the takeover of House of Fraser
To comment on what information was available to the DTI on interests of Mohamed Al Fayed or representatives of the Sultan of Brunei in the takeover of House of Fraser before the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the matter