Magazine article The Spectator

He May Be Wild, but the Guardian Shouldn't Be Underhanded about Him

Magazine article The Spectator

He May Be Wild, but the Guardian Shouldn't Be Underhanded about Him

Article excerpt

I met Jonathan Boyd Hunt a year ago.

He is an agreeable, blond-headed fellow of about 40 who worked as an oil man and haulage contractor before recently drifting into journalism. During our meeting he told me a bewilderingly complex story involving the Guardian newspaper and Neil Hamilton, the disgraced former Tory MP. In so far as one could make head or tail of his allegations, they were sensational and extremely serious. He accused the Guardian of a dishonest conspiracy and cover-up.

Mr Hunt was obviously obsessive. I believed him when he told me that no one had paid him and his collaborator, Malcolm Keith-Hill, during their months of research into the Hamilton affair. When I asked whether he had any skeletons in his closet, he told me, yes, he had. As an importer of second-hand cars into Britain in 1990 he had underdeclared his VAT liability, and subsequently repaid Customs and Excise. I told him that if he pursued his allegations against the Guardian it was certain that the newspaper would discover this irregularity, and use it to discredit him.

Mr Hunt has this week published a book, Trial by Conspiracy (GreenNZone, 15.99). Nothing remotely like it has ever been written before about any national newspaper. The charges are so extraordinary that one rubs one's eyes in wonder that any publisher should have agreed to commit them to paper. Mr Hunt accuses the Guardian of framing Mr Hamilton, whom he believes to be innocent of the most serious charge made against him, namely that he received envelopes stuffed full of cash from Mohamed Al Fayed. He unveiled his book at a press conference on Monday in the presence of many journalists, including four from the Guardian.

Trial by Conspiracy is far too long, lacks an index and abjures all footnotes. Mr Hunt often cannot see the wood for the trees, and piles detail upon detail, allegation upon allegation, until one's head spins. On the other hand, this love of detail, the mark of most investigative reporters, can produce impressive results. By trawling through Hansard, he has discovered that Mr Hamilton tabled only nine innocuous written questions on Mr Al Fayed's behalf during a three-and-a-half-year period, while Dale Campbell-Savours, a Labour MP whom no one has ever accused of taking cash for questions, tabled 58 motions and 11 written questions as part of his own campaign against Mr Al Fayed's persecutor, Tiny Rowland.

For all the book's swirling complexities, Mr Hunt's main points can be summarised quite simply. He believes Mr Al Fayed, the source of all the Guardian's allegations against Mr Hamilton, to be a liar. He points out that the story as told by the newspaper evolved in an extraordinary way. When it first published its allegations against Mr Hamilton in October 1994, there was no allusion to brown envelopes, only to commission payments which had supposedly been passed by the lobbyist Ian Greer to Mr Hamilton. The brown envelopes came much later. Also remarkably late on the scene, in September 1995, were three employees of Mr Al Fayed's who gave evidence, some of it contradictory, suggesting they had been involved in the handing over of money to Mr Hamilton.

Mr Hunt's impugning of Mr Al Fayed's veracity will strike a chord with many who have seen the wily Egyptian at work over the past year. …

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