Magazine article The Spectator

Breaking the Silence

Magazine article The Spectator

Breaking the Silence

Article excerpt

When you hire a morning suit for a wedding, you count on being photographed a few times on the day - for photos that will be quickly buried in wedding albums. But by now, half the country will probably have seen pictures of me as Liam Fox's best man at his wedding, six years ago. Had I known, I'd perhaps have hired a suit that fitted a little better.

But I'd never have imagined that I'd end up in a Force 12 political storm. When this all began, some three months ago, I opted to keep a low profile, thinking that any other course of action would only fan the media flames. Instead, my silence just encouraged ever more lurid and absurd accusations. I have never spoken publicly about this surreal experience, until now.

My story starts on an evening in Dubai six months ago when my then girlfriend and I ended up in an American steak house called Ruth's Chris. Out of the many thousands of eateries in the city, we couldn't have made a worse choice. Five minutes after we sat down, a British expat businessman named Harvey Boulter arrived on the table opposite us. I'd met him once before, but I had no intention of meeting him on this trip. However, out of politeness I said hello. The rest is history - and a history which I very much regret.

We stayed on after dinner as Boulter wanted to talk to me about Cellcrypt, his mobile phone encryption software technology. When we first met several months earlier, he'd discussed making it available to British troops in Afghanistan, free of charge, to enable them to make free 'welfare' calls home. A worthwhile idea, I thought, and one worth supporting. I mentioned to him that I was meeting my friend Liam Fox the next day - he asked if he could talk to Liam about Cellcrypt over a coffee. I passed on his request, and the next day the meeting went ahead. Big mistake. I ought to have left it firmly to official channels to handle. They exist for a reason - specifically, to ensure that full and accurate records of conversations and meetings can be kept.

Within a few days, Boulter had legal proceedings issued against him in New York by 3M, the US multinational corporation, for alleged 'blackmail' - the details of which are too bizarre and legally contentious to repeat here. Both Liam and I were dragged into the ensuing legal mess, with press hyper-scrutiny soon following. Who was I? What was my job? Why had so many meetings between Liam and I taken place? A media witch hunt ensued: wrongdoing was presumed to be lurking somewhere in all this. Things certainly looked bad and in politics appearances - as much as substance - can be deadly.

I've been friends with Liam for years and we've worked together on his 'Atlantic Bridge' group and also his efforts to support reconciliation efforts in Sri Lanka. My numerous trips there contributed to the decision by the government to remove longstanding emergency regulations. It was an important step forward and something I'm proud to have been able to help with. I've been asked on several occasions why I didn't apply to be a special adviser.

The answer: I actually know very little about defence policy and have never pretended otherwise. Why should I be paid by the taxpayer for an expertise I didn't possess?

So I continued to work outside of 'officialdom' in what was certainly an unusual role. …

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