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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.]


1986


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


ON 23 JANUARY 1986 Leon Brittan stepped down as Secretary of State for Trade & Industry.

Like Norman Tebbit, Leon Brittan was known to have enjoyed a warm relationship with Mohamed Fayed, and had been witnessed having meetings with Fayed at Fayed’s heavily-bugged office block at 60 Park Lane. Brittan was replaced by Paul Channon.


ON 10 MARCH 1986 Michael Grylls, Neil Hamilton & Tim Smith met Mohamed Al Fayed for the first time.

The three Tory MPs met Fayed for lunch at Harrods, after taking up an invitation passed through Fayed’s lobbyist, Ian Greer. Fayed had invited the three members of the Conservative back-bench Trade & Industry committee at the suggestion of Greer, after learning that they had sympathised with professor Roland Smith’s rebuttal of Tiny Rowland’s attempts to buy Harrods two years earlier.


ON 4 MAY 1986 The Observer published an article unravelling Mohamed Al Fayed’s borrowings.

The article, entitled ‘Fayeds called to account on loans’, was penned by American financial wizard Lorana Sullivan. Formerly of the Wall Street Journal, Sullivan untangled Fayed’s Byzantine company records to show how he had re-financed House of Fraser with huge borrowings since the purchase totalling some £430 million.

The implication was clear: after acquiring House of Fraser with the Sultan of Brunei’s money, Fayed had used the stores group as collateral to raise loans to repay the Sultan most, if not all, of his cash.


ON 18 MAY 1986 The Observer published a follow-up to its story that Mark Thatcher and Mohamed Al Fayed had flown to Brunei together in Fayed’s jet.

Entitled ‘Mark Thatcher and Guru clues to Harrods deal’, like the January article it was written by Donald Trelford. The story claimed that The Observer had acquired documentary evidence via the Sultan’s spiritual adviser, Sari Chandra Swamji Maharaj, corroborating its earlier story of 12 January about the trip. This evidence consisted of a certificate confirming the visit, signed by Brunei’s former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Kailash Nath Agarwal. The certificate stated:


TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: ‘Our immigration records show that Mr. Mohamed al Fayed and Mr M. Thatcher were entered into Bandar Sri Bhagawan, Sultanate of Brunei, on 24th day of October 1984 and departed on 26th October 1984 by air passage.’


The Observer claimed further evidence in the guise of a confirmation of the visit by Han Ling, the editor of local newspaper, The Borneo Bulletin. Once again, Mark Thatcher did not deny the story, though it would have been easily disproved by showing his passport or other such evidence proving he had been elsewhere on the dates specified; nor did Fayed offer to show his passport or provide his private jet’s flight schedule for the days in question, which would also have killed the story flat. Nor did the Sultan of Brunei issue a denial.


ON 25 MAY 1986 The Sunday Times published a story, which sought to undermine The Observer’s claim that Mark Thatcher had visited Brunei with Mohamed Al Fayed — but which actually confirmed The Observer’s story.

The article, by The Sunday Times’s Ivan Fallon, who had previously given gushing support to the Fayeds, launched an overt attack on The Observer. In his piece Fallon cited a denial issued by the Sultan's London-based personal aide, Major Christopher Hanbury, which Fallon claimed proved that The Observer’s story was false. However, Fallon made no reference to The Observer's article of 4 August 1985 revealing that Hanbury was also a director of the Fayed-owned Liechtenstein company, Hyde Park SA, into which Mohamed Fayed had deposited the Sultan's funds with which he and his brothers had bought House of Fraser.

    Fallon also quoted the editor of the Borneo Bulletin, Han Ling, as denying the story. However, a study of Fallon's quotation shows that Ling did not contradict the story but rather that he actually confirmed The Observer's central allegation: that Mark Thatcher had visited Brunei in October 1984. Fallon referred to The Observer article thus:


The Observer said last week that the visit had been “independently confirmed” by Han Ling, the editor of the Borneo Bulletin. Last week the Sunday Times contacted Ling, who said he had not spoken to The Observer. The paper quoted him as saying: “I know for a fact Mark Thatcher was here.” This, said Ling, sounded like part of a quote he had given to Paul Foot of The Daily Mirror. The rest of that quote added: “But I don’t know if he met the Sultan.” The Sultan’s office says the ruler was out of the country during that time.


So, rather than disproving The Observer’s story, the editor of the Borneo Bulletin, Han Ling, actually reconfirmed that Mark Thatcher had indeed visited Brunei. Han Ling’s ‘denial’ actually consisted of a clarification that he was unable to confirm whether Mark Thatcher had met the Sultan — which is an entirely different issue.


ON 2 JUNE 1986 Mohamed Al Fayed produced a document to ‘disprove’ that he & Mark Thatcher had flown to Brunei.

Though Fayed refrained from producing irrefutable evidence such as his passport or his jet’s flight schedule (both of which would have been simple), Fayed instead obtained from the opposite side of the world in Brunei a denial from the former civil servant, Kailash Nath Agarwal, whom The Observer claimed had signed the certificate confirming the visit. It read: ‘it is an absolute lie to suggest that I am the author of that document.’ Fayed also obtained a denial from the Sultan’s mystic, Sari Chandra Swamji Maharaj (a.k.a. ‘the Swami’), whom The Observer claimed had obtained the certificate.

       However, neither Fayed nor Margaret Thatcher sought to obtain a denial from the Sultan, which presumably the Sultan would have provided willingly if The Observer’s story was untrue, nor did Fayed obtain a denial from Mark Thatcher, which presumably he would have been content to supply if the Observer’s story was untrue.

Fayed showed Tim Smith the civil servant’s and the mystic’s denials. Believing them to be true statements, and believing that The Observer’s story about Mark Thatcher’s visit to Brunei was untrue and motivated by animosity, Smith immediately tabled a request for an adjournment debate on the newspaper’s stance.


ON 3 JUNE 1986 Tory MP Eldon Griffiths wrote to The Observer’s editor, Donald Trelford, in an attempt to bring a halt to The Observer’s attacks on the government.

Eldon Griffiths’ concerns had also been aroused by the escalation of the ‘Mark Thatcher trip to Brunei’ story. In his letter, Griffiths referred to the denials of the story obtained by Fayed, and gave notice of his intention to table a parliamentary motion about the matter. Griffiths wrote:


I have it in my mind to draw to the attention of the House the charges made by these gentlemen that The Observer has borne false witness against them, and that, accordingly, the allegations that you also make against the Prime Minister; Mr Norman Tebbit and Mr. Mark Thatcher are palpably untrue…

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