Magazine article The Spectator

In the Court of Mohamed

Magazine article The Spectator

In the Court of Mohamed

Article excerpt

THOUGH no lawyer, I assume that all precedents and points of law touching upon Hamilton v. Al Fayed are to be found in Jarndyce v. Jarndyce or, better still, Beachcomber's lengthy Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs. Beachcomber, for the benefit of younger readers, was for decades the surreal columnist of the old Daily Express. On leaving the High Court one evening this week, I consulted Michael Frayn's useful Beachcomber anthology. 'A Mrs Tasker is accused of continually ringing the doorbell of a Mrs Renton, and then, when the door is open, pushing a dozen red-bearded dwarfs into the hall and leaving them there.'

The details of that case need not, as lawyers say, detain us here. Its resemblance to Hamilton v. Al Fayed resides, apart from its picturesque implausibility, in such passages as: `The first sensation came when Mrs Tasker submitted a list of over 7,000 people whom she wished to call as witnesses.' The judge asked, `Surely they cannot all be connected with the case. For instance, I see here the name of a Cabinet minister. Also, a well-known film actor. And that distinguished sailor Rear Admiral Sir Ewart Hodgson?' Counsel: 'I understand he knows one of the dwarfs.'

Sitting in the High Court for the past week or so, one asked oneself, `Surely they cannot all be connected with the case?' But they must be. Otherwise, as name after famous name falls from Mr Al Fayed's lips in the witness box, the judge presumably would have stopped him. Mr Al Fayed did not mention a distinguished sailor. But he had at least one Cabinet minister. And, as his days of cross-examination passed, he submitted the names of the Duke of Edinburgh in his capacity as organiser of assassination; the late Mr Tiny Rowland as payer of bribes; Mr Michael Howard as accepter of aforementioned bribes; Mr Hamilton as homosexual; Mr Hamilton as prostitute; Mr Hamilton as homosexual prostitute; Lady Thatcher, not necessarily as either of the latter, but certainly as a conspirator against Mr Al Fayed; and, just to be bipartisan, Mr Jack Straw as refuser of Mr Al Fayed's fabled British passport on the orders of MI6 and, indeed, MI5. At the time of writing, Mr Al Fayed is still in the witness box, and so this may not be the exhaustive list.

An unusual case, as Beachcomber would say; and a gripping one. As the days lengthened in Court 13, the outside world had no reality or significance except insofar as it affected our case, the case by which all of us in the press seats and public gallery were by now hypnotised. But, as always for us laymen, we can follow only the non-technical stuff. Every now and then, judge and two leading counsels talk and dispute among themselves in their learned tongue. The rest of us are cast adrift.

`My Lord, this is contrary to Phipson,' said Mr George Carman, for Mr Al Fayed, interrupting Mr Desmond Browne's crossexamination of the owner of Harrods. `Yes, Phipson is clear,' commented the judge. Mr Browne, reflecting, does not think he is doing anything contrary to Phipson. But he seems to think Phipson has to be borne in mind. We press on. An hour or so later, Mr Carman was up again, refreshing his learned friend's memory of Phipson. No one answers the question that is by now on all our lips: who is this Phipson? He cannot be famous. …

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