Magazine article The Spectator

Yes, I Think It's True

Magazine article The Spectator

Yes, I Think It's True

Article excerpt

AT FIRST, I didn't believe it. Not of Arnold. Not Lord Goodman, Companion of Honour, adviser to the Prince of Wales and assorted prime ministers, especially Harold Wilson, and chairman, director, solicitor or patron of most of Britain's distinguished institutions, including the BBC, the Arts Council, the British Council, the English National Opera, the Royal Opera House and the Newspaper Publishers' Association, for starters. If the Almighty had ever had need of a lawyer, Arnold would have been His automatic choice.

To suggest that he might have robbed Viscount Portman, one of his rich, titled and influential clients (I suppose he had unrich, untitled and uninfluential clients, but I bet there weren't many) would have been as unthinkable as saying Mother Teresa was no better than she ought to be.

`No, not Arnold,' I said. And then, I thought, `Why not Arnold?' He was a fixer. The fixer. He fixed anything: newspaper owners, strikes, Ian Smith of Rhodesia or a ticket for the opera, provided you were the king or president of somewhere high up in the pecking order of the United Nations. But fixers can't have principles. So, why not Arnold?

Arnold didn't like problems reaching the High Court. He liked to sort them out without bothering m'Lud. An action was a defeat. He invariably opposed his clients suing for libel; he also stopped the libelled suing his clients.

After Private Eye had defamed me in the early 1970s, Harold Wilson advised me to consult Arnold. `Dear boy,' he said (he always called me `dear boy' or `Mr Haines', never Joe), `this is the grossest libel I have ever seen. But my advice to you is not to sue. There are so many people queuing up to sue that rag that it'll be bankrupt by the time your turn is reached.'

So I decided not to sue. Only later did I discover that among the queue of those who had issued or threatened writs against Private Eye was Arnold over an account, written by Paul Foot, suggesting that the sainted solicitor had overdrawn 17,000 as administrator of a trust for the Portman estate. I would have been queuing behind him.

I think that's what's called chutzpah by Arnold's co-religionists. But seeing that he is now under the gravest suspicion of robbing the Portman estate of some 1 million, the Fraud Squad would probably call his writ something else.

Nevertheless, Arnold!

It's an unfortunate fact of my life that work in politics and newspapers has brought me into contact with several men who turned out to be crooks on a middling or large scale, including the obnoxious Joe Kagan, the charming Eric Miller and the amiable old duffer Desmond Brayley, all businessmen attracted both to politics and the funds of the companies they owned. And there was, of course, Robert Maxwell, who, on the scale of his thefts, ranks high among the biggest crooks of our time who have been found out.

But Arnold was in a different class to all of them. The amount of money stolen isn't important. It's the size of the man. Some figures, after a life of public service, graduate to the ranks of the great and the good. But he was the great and the Goodman. He was unique.

Everybody deferred to him. If Wilson, or Heath, or Thatcher, had made him lord chancellor, he would have invited comparisons with Thomas Wolsey (thus robbing Lord Irvine of the chance) and no one would have been surprised. …

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