Magazine article The Spectator

What about Lord Walker et Al?

Magazine article The Spectator

What about Lord Walker et Al?

Article excerpt

JOHN Redwood is right to demand the facts about the Maxwell robberies (`What about Lord Donoughue et al?, 27 February). The whole affair still stinks of big scandals, little scandals, oddities and the inexplicable, including the fact that the Department of Trade inquiry into what happened at the Mirror has already lasted longer than the second world war. The sooner its findings are published, the better.

But Redwood may not get what he is looking for. In his pursuit of political scalps, he speaks, to adapt Macaulay, on the wrong side of a subject of which he is profoundly ignorant. First, there is a real problem with DTI inquiries. They are kangaroo courts; they do not abide by rules of evidence; witnesses against whom allegations might be made cannot confront their accusers nor can their lawyers address the `courY; and, under the rules of contempt, they are forbidden to comment publicly upon evidence they have given, even to refute lies told about them. Technically, they cannot even disclose that they have given evidence.

Redwood, as a former DTI minister, should know better than to assume that silence is guilt. Under the inspectors' procedure, answering back is the punishable crime. Redwood and his colleagues and predecessors had 18 years in government to abolish this undemocratic inquisition and they did not, which leaves him free to say what he likes without reply.

Astute readers of The Spectator, knowing that I was a non-executive director of Mirror Group Newspapers, might think I was a witness; I couldn't possibly comment. They might also assume that most of the evidence was gathered by the inspectors as far back as 1992 and 1993, that nearly five years have passed since provisional conclusions were drafted, and that, in accordance with precedent, some part of those findings were sent to the government of which Redwood was member.

But what will the inspectors tell us about the scandals? That depends on whether they confine themselves to the Mirror Group flotation or roam more widely to cover the Maxwell Communications Corporation, whose imminent collapse led to the raid on the Mirror Group pensions fund and nearly wrecked a profitable newspaper.

A 1971 DTI inquiry into Maxwell concluded, `He is not. . a person who can be relied on to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company.' But Maxwell, unlike the unfortunate Terry Venables, whose offences at a later date were hardly in the same league, was never disqualified from being a company director. The support he got from greedy City of London accountants, lawyers, bankers, brokers and the bluest of City blue-bloods - what Sir William Macpherson might call institutionalised avarice - was the fundamental scandal which led to the others; without their lucrative assistance, Maxwell would never have been a proprietor.

Peter Walker, who, soon after that first DTI report, became Secretary of State for the department, was chairman designate of MCC for four months in the summer of 1991, leaving shortly before its collapse with a reputed compensation package of 400,000. Redwood asked last week why Lord Donoughue did not blow the whistle on Maxwell. He might ask Walker the same question. After all, Walker joined Maxwell while the robberies were in process; Donoughue told Maxwell he was leaving before the thefts had begun. …

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