(The situation as of 15th October 1996)
Late at night on a mountain road in Northern Cyprus, Angus James - co-founder of Scallywag magazine and half brother of editor Simon Regan - was being driven back to his hotel when the car swerved suddenly and then toppled over the edge into a narrow gully.
The driver, Simon Stander, and two young women in the back, all employed by James on his recently launched Spiked magazine, escaped with heavy bruising and were treated for shock. James himself died instantly from multiple head wounds. Despite the fact that the road was isolated, many local people emerged out of the dark to launch a rescue operation and very quickly an ambulance and fire appliance arrived to bring up the car and take all the injured to hospital.
The party had been on a working holiday and, after a week of keen but pleasant negotiation, had done a deal with Asil Nadir for further investment in James's publishing venture. A contract had been written and signed and all the parties involved had, that very night, been celebrating the new situation.
The cause of the accident is a matter of conjecture. Like most accidents, it did not need to happen. Angus James was an exceedingly fit young man at his very prime and was poised to become a significant voice in magazine publishing.
Stander, the driver, was in charge of organising the trip and was normally very careful about the details. However, because the journey was arranged quickly at the very last minute, he had omitted to get the relevant insurance.
The two girls were speedily put on the next available flight home (by Nadir's aides) and they arrived in London, after the compulsory stop- off in Turkey, in a state of extreme trauma. Stander was transferred from hospital to a hotel and his passport was withdrawn, pending police inquiries into the cause of the accident. This was partly for his own protection. If a second vehicle had been involved, the relatives of anyone else who had been hurt, may have been looking for revenge.
While the party had been drinking it had not at that stage been to excess. They were planning a night cap at the hotel. Stander, however, was marginally over the limit and would certainly be charged. He was put under hotel-arrest and had to forfeit his passport. The investigation would last weeks and a charge of manslaughter was being seriously considered. At time of writing this situation has not yet been resolved. In fact he seems to have disappeared.
He had died in the early hours of a Friday morning. Our mother, Valerie Wilson, 72, of Kentish Town, London, was informed during the next morning and the whole family was naturally very shocked. Angus was very much the 'kid brother' of the family. His death seemed an extraordinary waste. Trauma ran amongst us that weekend in a most potent way. The shock was mainly one of disbelief.
But my mother's troubles had really only just started and she had to basically numb her brain to deal with the tragic situation. Stander, at that stage still under hotel-arrest, had been visited by the consul of the British High Commission. Stander gave the consul my mother's London number and he, the consul, told her she had two choices.
Angus could either be cremated in Cyprus and the ashes sent home, or they could organise it so that the body could be returned by air for cremation in London. They warned my mother that they could do nothing until she deposited some money with the Foreign Office. They added the rider that Turkish Cypriots had very primitive embalming procedures and speed was of the essence.
In her state of trauma my mother became very anxious indeed to get Angus's body back as soon as possible. But it was a weekend and the banks were closed. Like many people of her age she has a small nest egg and the interest from it, in a high interest bank account, just alleviates her weekly budget. That is, she lives from her pension, but any small luxury, such as her two glasses of sherry at midday, must come out of the extra cash.
In order to draw the money, on Monday morning, she had to pay more than £100 to transfer it from the high interest account into cash. Angus's wife, Susan, then went to the FO to pay over £2,500 in cash. It took a further week to get the body back and no one had a reason for the delay, or could explain it.
The man at the FO in England put her in contact with the local High Commission in Cyprus and they gave her a shopping list which included three different levels of coffin. One would be a teak affair and cost more than £2,000. The 'middle range' coffin, which was described as 'adequate but not ostentatious', was £500 and then there was a 'package' which the FO intimated was of cardboard. My mother chose the £500 coffin. It would cost a further £500 to send the body by air. At London airport the FO's responsibility ended.
It would eventually cost a further £2,000 to bury Angus.
When I did the homework with the FO and pointed out that a £500 coffin and a £500 air fare did not amount to £2,500, the official said: "The rest is for paper work." This was not specified. My mother wanted to know what an HM consul actually did if he had to be hired at £1,000 to deal with obvious consular problems. There was, within the family, several ways in which my mother could be reimbursed. But the pressure had been on her to pay up quickly and get the wheels in motion, without even questioning the FO's demands. She did wonder what might have happened if she had not had her nest egg.
The undertakers, Levinson and Son in the Malden Road, Camden, were very supportive and collected the body from Stansted. It was taken to their central office for embalming and then brought to the Malden Road in case anyone wanted to view it. Angus had sustained grotesque head injuries and the undertakers gently suggested that it would be very upsetting to look at him. The Cypriot authorities had not even kept the body in a cool place and it had begun to fester. The undertakers did suggest to my mother that they would like a member of the family to look at the coffin. My other brother, Robin, did so.
He found poor Angus had been sent back in a cheeseboard box which had been tacked up loosely. The tacks had come undone and, at the airport, the body had been partly exposed. On the top of this rough crate someone had tacked on a piece of metal which resembled a cross. The undertakers said they simply could not be responsible for taking the body to the crematorium in Golder's Green in the crate provided. So on top of the £500 my mother had given the FO, she then had to buy a new coffin for £250. It was an infinitely better coffin for half the price. But the nest egg was beginning to look rather tattered.
I went to the FO to tackle them. My mother had not had a specific detailed receipt, just a small scrap of paper with the total paid. I could not find out what the £2,500 was actually for. I was fobbed off again with "paper work". There was no explanation for the coffin except "you get what you pay for".
It does appear that Her Britannic Majesty's Consul doesn't give much of a damn about Her Britannic Majesty's subjects once they become corpses. If it had been me, old Angus would have punched someone on the nose.
Part of this story subsequently appeared in the Independent and a letter from our local MP, Frank Dobson, brought a full but unsatisfactory explanation from Malcolm Rifkind the Foreign Secretary - with an acceptance that Scallywag's mother had been grossly overcharged and would be reimbursed a significant part of the sum she had paid. As it happened it was just about what she had had to borrow to pay all the bills. Since then Stander has disappeared completely and many, many questions have arisen as to the true circumstances of Angus's death. A chance remark led Scallywag to begin his own investigations from London and, although he had started by dismissing foul play, various things led him to change his mind. So a second, more detailed letter was sent to Dobson.
(Table of Contents)
Hon. Frank Dobson MP
House of Commons
11 November 1996
Dear Mr. Dobson,
Further to my letter concerning my brother, Angus James's death in Northern Cyprus, I write again on a perhaps more worrying and complex matter. Forgive me if I try and put the situation into a proper perspective by spelling out the background.
Spiked magazine, which Angus founded and edited, was first funded by Felix Dennis, of Oz fame who now runs a formidably lucrative chain of computer magazines. It was later funded by Mohammed Al Fayed with a considerable amount of money - certainly, to date, several tens of thousands, possibly hundreds. Fayed's interest was to use Spiked as a sort of glorious and expensive publicity handout to oil the wheels for his desires to expose sleaze in the present government. Naturally, as we all know, he had many other irons in the fire but it was made obvious to Angus by Mark Griffiths, Fayed's "fixer" that the budget for his aims was "unlimited." Angus had access to Al Fayed's extensive files which are presently being leaked in generous doses and have been painstakingly compiled at truly massive expense.
Angus and I had launched a London version of Scallywag together, some years ago now, using a legacy from my late stepfather, Andrew Wilson, as capital. You may be aware of the fact that we quickly became a thorn in the side of the Conservative party. First of all with a rather ridiculous libel action from John Major and Clare Latimer. But we did go on in Scallywag to make several serious allegations about other members of the cabinet. As a result the Deputy Head of "research" at the CCO, a "Dr." Julian Lewis, began an almost obsessive campaign to close the magazine down, which to all intents and purposes, he has done.
One of the sponsors for Scallywag was Owen Oyston who has since been give seven years custody for rape - something we genuinely felt he was not guilty of. Angus and I were responsible for "packaging" the Oyston story and giving what we considered to be Tory dirty tricks a wide airing. A large part of the story we exposed was tape recordings between a known nutcase called Murrin and Michael Atkins who was then a junior minister and who had clearly compromised himself in lengthy telephone calls to Murrin.
Most of all this is merely background to a situation which became very involved and complicated but, quite clearly large sums of money had been made available to the CCO/Lewis to "deal" with us and if necessary I can give lengthy chapter and verse on this. Both Scallywag and Spiked had well known financial connections with various people who had a bone to pick with the government and were ardently supportive.
Angus and I, amicably, parted company and I was to continue on my own with Scallywag while he raised further funding to start publishing a new magazine, Spiked, without any "previous convictions", which he did through Felix Dennis and Al Fayed. When we had launched Scallywag we made many parliamentary friends, including MP's, ex-MP's, secretaries to PPS's, and dissolute lobby correspondents who could not get certain stories published, among others. Until his death, Angus had nurtured these contacts very successfully and had a very good working knowledge of anything untoward which was happening in parliament. I know that his next edition, planned after his immediate return from Cyprus was going to be a "corker" and for the first time was going on the web internet.
One of our contacts was Brian Basham, a dirty tricks PR who had not only organised the BA conspiracy against Virgin for Lord King, but had then sold out to Virgin for considerable further profit. He and I did not particularly like each other because, if anything, I fully believed we should be exposing him, not co-operating with him, and he knew it. But he took a shine to Angus and they began working out in the gym together. Angus was shamelessly heterosexual but I, and he, had very serious doubts about Basham's "crush" on Angus. Basham wanted to take Angus "on board" and teach him the "tricks of the trade". I found this whole situation unhealthy and disassociated myself from Spiked even though at the time I had no other income because of the CCO activities. But Angus had come to see Basham as a mentor and Basham and clearly seen Angus as a protégé. It was Basham who fixed up the deal between Angus and Al Fayed. Basham was on the huge "expenses unlimited" gravy train which Al Fayed had created and was in receipt of roughly £250,000 a year, plus expenses, just as a retainer. There is no doubt in my mind that Brian Basham is a dangerous man with no scruples. Angus, who had a few, but not many, was delighted to be a recruit to the various gravy trains Basham controlled. His lifestyle before he died had become massively excessive and in my opinion he and Basham were operating only this side of the law.
Basham was also hoping to be retained by Asil Nadir in Northern Cyprus, which is getting to the relevant part of the story. Nadir's main man in Cyprus is Peter Diamond who has a permanent suite in one of Nadir's luxury hotels. Diamond is a sort of political minder for Nadir and you simply cannot get to Asil unless you go through Diamond. His main stipulation was that, if they met, the meeting would have to be a complete secret. There was other wheeling and dealing in London prior to the Cyprus trip and I knew something big was impending. What it was in full is probably only known by Angus. All I know is that, prior to Angus going to Cyprus, Basham and Diamond had struck a deal and Angus was going to be the conduit. Basham's brief was to create a situation in which Nadir could return to the UK under "benevolent" terms. That is that, at best, he is not charged at all and, at worst, the evidence against him is flimsy and he gets a token sentence. Basham is probably one of the few people in the world who could possibly create this situation. My knowledge of him is that he moves in a strange moonlight world of double-dealing. It is very unlikely that he had anything directly to do with Angus's death, but it was quite possible that he might have been double dealing Asil Nadir. He had a long association with the CCO, especially just before the last election. Basham is extremely adept at letting others do the actual dirty work, while he picks up the profits.
On the Friday before the flight on Saturday morning, I met Angus in the Pembroke Castle, the nearest pub to the Spiked office in Primrose Hill. He and his sort-of-second-in-command, Simon Stander, plus Angus's mistress, Allison, who also worked for the magazine, and Shona, a typist for the paper, were all in holiday mood and the girls had been shopping for beachwear. Apparently Al Fayed had absolutely no time for Asil Nadir and was not informed of this visit - even though he was paying for it.
While the others chatted about the impending holiday, Angus and I talked deeply about what the visit was all about. Apparently (a story strongly backed up by Stander) Angus had been offered compromising pictures of Michael Portillo in explicit situations with a young boy. The pictures had been shown to both Angus and Stander and the vendor was asking for £100,000 for the negatives. Basham had been brought into the conspiracy and had approached Al Fayed who had turned the whole concept down as being far too underhand. I have not seen these pictures myself, and am aware that, like the Diana video, they could easily be fakes. But Angus and Stander certainly had and the vendor was willing to submit the negs to any necessary scientific analysis for the sum mentioned. This, however, was to be merely the cream on top of a huge folder of allegations collected via Fayed and given to Angus by Basham.
The idea, as outlined by Angus, was to get the deal financed by Asil Nadir and the suggestion was that he may use it as a leeway to do a deal with the government. I.e. it was low-class political blackmail of the most insidious kind. Angus and Stander, without the girl's explicit knowledge, were going out to Northern Cyprus to offer a package to Nadir which would also include anything else they, or Basham, could put together to compromise the government into a situation whereby Nadir would face the minimum of prosecution.
This frankly disgusted me. If I had such compromising pictures, I would have verified them and published them and be damned, but only if it was obvious that the boy in question was under-aged. We were never on a witch-hunt against homosexuals, but paedophiles were a different matter. I would have published them in the public interest because I don't think a Defence Minister should be so foolish and because I despise hypocrisy and a party which stands for "family values" should be seen to do so. But under no circumstances would I have resorted to anything which was tantamount to blackmail of any person, even though I find Portillo, and his policies, quite repugnant. Our policy was never homophobic, but we campaigned vigorously against paedophiles and, always, hypocrisy.
Why Angus believed the veracity of the pictures was that they were apparently taken with secret cameras in a set-up organised by the two top private detectives permanently employed by Al Fayed, but also used at one time by Owen Oyston to try and discredit witnesses against him. Al Fayed also sanctioned these two, on behalf of Spiked, to do a "complete job" on anyone suspected of having any kind of relationship with Michael Portillo. Which they did, and I know of at least one break-in to the house of a BA employer where documents and letters were stolen and were apparently of a compromising nature.
Peter Lilley was also subjected to such a vigilance, but I don't know the full outcome. So was Michael Heseltine at one stage, but that was not financed directly by Fayed. However, we did produce irrefutable evidence that when Heseltine had his heart attack he was actually in bed with his mistress in the Venice home of Lord McAlpine, who, incidentally, we had also accused of being supplied by young boys from a Welsh children's home by Ian Greer. All this from a party who canvasses for "family values." While both Scallywag and Spiked had hinted heavily of much of the information available, we had been largely ignored. In the hands of professional dirty tricksters, however, the information being offered to Nadir was potential dynamite.
What I do know is that Angus went to Cyprus to offer Nadir a "package" and that on the day he died he had called my mother and said the deal had gone through, for a "lot of money" and they were going to Nadir's well-protected house with Peter Diamond to celebrate. This was a Friday - exactly one week after I had talked to him, and they were due to fly back presumably with a significant cheque the following morning. Although they had not drunk a great deal - Nadir is no big drinker - the driver, Stander, was over the limit and Diamond offered him a car and driver which he refused. They had gone as a foursome, but during the week Stander had made a serious play for Shona and had been rejected. Because of this he had become petulant and boorish and on the night in question this had turned into naked anger. The theory of both girls is that when they were driving back to the hotel to have a night-cap, Stander was deranged enough to try and commit suicide and take the others with him. However, it is inconceivable to me that he could knowingly kill Angus alone. Whatever, if this suicide theory is correct, it didn't happen as it was planned. The girls survived to tell the tale and only Stander knows the full truth.
Diamond's reaction to the accident was sheer panic and he hustled the girls out of the country on the next possible plane, even though they were naturally seriously traumatised. He called my mother to tell her he would do everything he could to help - as long as the incident was never connected to Asil Nadir, his paymaster. While in a state of trauma the girls allowed Diamond to do all the packing and arranging for the flight, etc.. Without a passport, however, Stander would have to stay. While doing the "arrangements" Diamond was able to take into his own custody all Angus's belongings, including all his compromising files and papers, and, presumably, the cheque. As soon as the girl landed in the UK Diamond was completely unavailable for any kind of liaison and only by duplicity was I able to get through to him. His only stipulation at that point was that, under no circumstances, could Asil Nadir be involved with either the visit or the death. He was, he said, going to "fix things" for Stander. The hire car was swiftly disposed of, without even a cursory examination by the police.
However, Chris Blackhurst, Westminster correspondent for the Independent and a good friend of Angus knew who Angus had gone to see, but not why, and he published a small item naming Nadir. At that point Stander disappeared. His youngest son had arrived in Northern Cyprus to try and bail his father out - or at least smuggle him out, for the police had seized his passport and the last communication anyone had with Stander was through his son. His eldest son, however, has had communication with his brother and attests that Stander had decided to stay in Northern Cyprus and had been fixed up with an income by Diamond, i.e. Nadir and is presently in hiding as a permanent guest. Only Stander knows what the deal was (apart from Nadir himself and Diamond). Whatever it was, it fell to pieces when Angus died, because Angus was the conduit and Basham would not deal with anyone else. Stander could not be of any further importance to Nadir, so there must be another explicit reason why he wanted to hide Stander and co-operate in his failure to return home.
The Coroner in London (the official hearing is next month) told my mother that under the circumstances of Stander's state of mind on the night, according to the two witnesses, the girls, if the accident had happened in England Stander would almost certainly have been charged with manslaughter. However, as best I can I have used my journalistic skills to get some reactions from Northern Cyprus and it can, in my opinion at least, not be ruled out that the brakes of the car had been interfered with. Who may have done this and why is a matter of huge conjecture and a whole bevy of conspiracy theories spring up. All I know is that Angus's death was not a straightforward matter, one way or the other, and the key to it is to track down Stander. If there was foul play, which I at first ruled out after talking to the girls, Northern Cyprus was the perfect place to do it, and it could be counted on that Nadir, perhaps innocently, would make sure the authorities out there would not dig too deeply. I just now have an overwhelming unease about the circumstances of this accident. This is neither hysterics nor paranoia. It is a gut feeling shared by several others.
The situation at present is that we have one dead Angus, one missing Stander, two witnesses who have at last got over their trauma, and are now able to reconstruct the events leading up to, during, and after, the accident; and a "package" of potentially compromising material which is still floating around and may well be used in a blackmail operation to get a Polly Peck crook off the hook.
May I say that my present motives are not journalistic, and will not be until or if it is proved to me that Angus's death was no accident. Until I can rule this possibility out, I intend to pursue the matter until I have exhausted every strand. An obviously problem is that, if foul play is considered a possibility, it was planned down to the last detail and will be very difficult indeed to uncover.
The Foreign Office, according to Dr. Fox's (PPS to Rifkind) letter, have two agents in Turkish Cyprus, and it might be invaluable if they have local knowledge as to where Stander might be, and perhaps further knowledge of the accident. I presume, also, that the security services may have an interest, and certainly the Minister of Defence. It is an unhealthy situation whatever way you look at it and whatever my views are concerning the CCO's nasty obsession with Scallywag, I hate blackmail far more and am absolutely partisan about the whole thing. Unless, of course it was "them that dunnit".
One of the problems, or at least doubts, is that all traffic between Northern Cyprus and the UK is routinely monitored by GCHQ, and I would imagine that there would be a special interest in telephone calls concerning Asil Nadir, so it is quite inevitable that the security forces in this country must have known about Angus's visit, and why he had gone there, and that on the day he died he had told my mother everything had "gone through." This inevitably raises a question mark.
I now have the means to continue my own investigation, both here and in Cyprus and am determined to be resolute, including going to Cyprus myself if necessary to try and pick up the pieces. I want to confront Stander about the exact circumstances of the deals that might have been done and about my brother's death. But if Stander has been hidden by Nadir and enjoys his sophisticated security system, this may be difficult. It has also not completely escaped my notice that should I venture into those waters, then my own life could well be dispensable.
I would be deeply grateful for any help you feel you might be able to give me on what is obviously a very complex matter and would appreciate it if you, as my constituency MP, were able to circulate this information to any government organisation or person who may have an interest or who may be able to help me in my quest. Angus and I had many heated disagreements, particularly about journalistic ethics, but I did not know just how much I loved the young bastard until he died. My purpose is to try and eliminate doubts. Not to prove points, and I am sure there must be several government agencies who may have an interest in the above, for one reason or another. If they have, I want to get to them. I think perhaps the only way in which light may be thrown on this one is to kick up a bit of a fuss.
It is not my desire, however, that Angus's death should become a party political issue. Merely to get to the truth.
Again, thank you for your kind consideration.