Magazine article The Spectator

An Odd Couple Indeed

Magazine article The Spectator

An Odd Couple Indeed

Article excerpt

IMAGINE the scene. The place is Ghana. It is August 1983. Amartey Kwei, convicted of the murder of three judges, is about to be executed by a firing squad. As he awaits his death, the Ghanaian head of state, Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, arrives at the execution ground with a tape recorder. In these appalling circumstances Kwei retracts his previous evidence that a certain Kojo Tsikata was the mastermind behind the murders. If he hopes that his confession will help him, he is about to be disappointed. Amartey Kwei is shot.

It is a long way, in time and place, from that moment, and it is curious that such an incident should invade the calm of these pages. And not only these pages. In a letter to this magazine published two weeks ago, the well-known libel solicitor Geoffrey Bindman touched obliquely on Kwei's recantation. Was it out of sensitivity to our feelings that Mr Bindman omitted the gruesome details of the poor man's end? In reiterating the innocence of his client, the aforementioned Kojo Tsikata, Mr Bindman wrote with chilling brevity: `Subsequently, the witness withdrew his accusation. He was himself convicted of the murder.' Mr Bindman is referring to the strange death of Amartey Kwei.

Four weeks ago I wrote about the relationship of the Guardian journalist Victoria Brittain to Kojo Tsikata, who was head of the Ghanaian security service at a time when the Ghanaian government was responsible for many murders and 'disappearances'. Amid the confessions of an MIS renegade called David Shayler to the Mail on Sunday, it had emerged that Ms Brittain had assisted Mr Tsikata in a libel case against the Independent. Hundreds of thousands of pounds had passed into her bank account to cover the costs of the action, before being transferred to accounts belonging to Bindman and Partners, the firm of which Geoffrey Bindman is the senior partner.

It seemed extremely odd that she should have helped such a man as Mr Tsikata, and very surprising that this assistance should have involved her in a libel action against a rival newspaper. It was also apparent that much of the money paid into Ms Brittain's account came from Libyan sources. Ms Brittain told Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, that she didn't know where the money came from. In her version, she had in effect acted as a postbox, forwarding the funds to Bindman and Partners. A Guardian representative told me that she had inspected Ms Brittain's statements from the Abbey National and they showed no reference to any Libyan payments, though banking sources with whom my colleague Nicholas Farrell and myself have spoken say that such payments would normally be clearly marked.

Mr Rusbridger nonetheless accepted Ms Brittain's assurances. She was barely rebuked, far less sacked. The paper that had got on its moral high horse over payments to Tory MPs could find no wrong in the actions of one of its most senior and long-serving journalists. Perhaps Mr Rusbridger felt that he simply did not have the evidence to discipline her. Perhaps he did not really want to look. At all events, further enquiries suggest that it is extremely likely that Ms Brittain was aware of the origins of the money. It is also clear that she was implicated with Mr Tsikata to an extent that does not seem compatible with her role as a journalist.

The case against Ms Brittain is not that she is of the 'loony' Left, though she most certainly is. Enquiries by Mr Farrell, who has helped me with some of the research for this article, have established that over the years she has been an attender at farleft conferences. (At a more respectable gathering in Harare, she found herself in the company of Mr Bindman.) In June 1989 she attended a conference which demanded that British troops leave Northern Ireland, and was introduced as a former member of the editorial board of the New Left Review, a Trotskyist publication. Writing in Marxism Today in 1984, she praised the Ethiopian revolution and blamed the British government, rather than the genocidal Ethiopian regime, for a famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. …

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