Former cash for questions minister Neil Hamilton and his wife are set to clash with publicist Max Clifford in a potentially costly libel trial.
The pair are suing over statements made by Clifford in August 2001 after Nadine Milroy-Sloan falsely accused them of being present when she was raped. She was later sentenced to three years in jail for making the false accusation.
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Clifford’s comments were made to newspaper reporters and on GMTV in the days following the Hamiltons’ initial police interview.
A pre-trial hearing heard that Milroy-Sloan approached Clifford with a sexual story involving the Hamiltons which he “saw the potential value of” and was hoping to take a 20 per cent cut on.
When she contacted him again to report the alleged rape he reportedly told her to contact the police.
The Hamiltons were arrested for interview on 10 August and then released on bail to find that the press had been tipped off and were waiting in their dozens outside.
In one of a number of newspaper interviews in the days after the arrest, Clifford told The Independent on Sunday: “The fact that after three months’ investigation they decided to bring the Hamiltons in – you make your own conclusions.”
Then in a GMTV interview on 15 August he said: “All I would say is when it comes to judging who’s telling the truth I totally believe what that young lady told me. The police obviously believe there is something in it or they wouldn’t have spent all this time investigating.”
In his preliminary judgment, Mr Justice Eady said: “One possible interpretation of the allegations is that Mr Clifford was ‘putting the boot’ into the Hamiltons and inviting his listeners, or readers, to side with Miss MilroySloan as the ‘victim’.”
Clifford’s lawyers argue that he had the right to hit back at a “campaign of publicity” started by the Hamiltons.
On 10 August Neil Hamilton is alleged to have said: “The whole thing is a monstrous lieâ€¦ As the name of Max Clifford has been mentioned, this is the man that brought us ‘Freddy Starr ate my hamster’. There is absolutely no truth in it.”
Mr Justice Eady said the case would hinge on whether Clifford had the protection of qualified privilege to respond against the allegations made against him. A date for the trial has not yet been set.
By Dominic Ponsford