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Hamilton's career came to crashing end over cash for questions scandal

THE latest twist in the soap operatic saga that is the life of Neil and Christine Hamilton saw them yesterday arrested in connection with a sexual assault allegation.

Since the cash-for-questions affair in 1994, the ebullient couple have been involved in a political survival fight, endless legal battles and all manner of bizarre media roles.

Hamilton was forced to resign as a Tory trade and industry minister after claims that he took money from Harrods tycoon Mohammed Al Fayed in return for asking questions in parliament.

He took his feud with Al Fayed to the High Court where Hamilton lost a libel action in 1999, then lost an appeal and ended up in dire financial straits.

BBC war reporter Martin Bell challenged Hamilton for his Tatton seat in May 1997 and duly won after other opposition parties withdrew.

All through these tumultuous times, Hamilton's loyal wife Christine stood by her man, insisting that her husband would clear his name. Ironically through the waves of scandal, she has carved out a career in television, even hosting a chat show.

Hamilton is a right-winger of the Thatcher mould, witty, eloquent and amiable. When he was made Parliamentary Wit of the Year by The Spectator magazine in 1989, he said he thought they had made him Twit of the Year.

The 1997 Tatton campaign produced one of the most dramatic moments in the Hamiltons' career.

They launched a surprise raid on Bell on Knutsford Heath, with Christine repeatedly asking him whether he thought her husband was guilty of wrong-doing.

In the Commons, Hamilton quickly attracted attention, barracking Neil Kinnock and making his charismatic presence felt.

He became a parliamentary private secretary, and then a junior whip.

He took a firm stance on South Africa, dismissing Nelson Mandela's African National Congress as "a typical terrorist organisation."

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And he attacked the BBC for screening a Mandela pop concert at Wembley in 1988 before the ANC leader was released from prison.

There were headlines in 1984 when Hamilton issued a writ against BBC TV's Panorama programme, Maggie's Militant Tendency, which alleged he was linked to right-wing extremists.

Two years later, the BBC admitted that the allegations were false, and damages of £40,000 were agreed.

Hamilton was born on March 9 1949 into a Welsh mining family.

He was a barrister but always said he would not return to that "constipated" profession.

His political career was to end in tears in October 1994, when he resigned as John Major's corporate affairs minister, five days after The Guardian published its cash-for-questions story which led to the launching of a libel action against the paper.

But that collapsed only hours before it was due to be heard in court.

He cited "technical reasons" for abandoning the case.

He married Christine in a hurried ceremony in Cornwall while he was fighting his parliamentary campaign in 1983.

She said: "Our guest list has shrunk down to 150 because of the election.

"Our honeymoon will last the weekend, and then it will be back to campaigning."

At that wedding, the Hamiltons typically used as a buttonhole the rose Invincible, specially grown, bred and named as a tribute to the Falklands task force.

A few days later he was to embark on his fateful political career, beset by storms and dogged by trouble.

But Christine, usually smiling but sometimes stern, was always at his side.

She knew the political ropes probably better than he did. She had been around the Commons for nearly a quarter of a century.

In the early 1970s, the then Christine Holman - daughter of a doctor - worked as a secretary for a Tory MP called Wilfred Proudfoot.

And then she was allegedly head-hunted by the flamboyant Sir Gerald Nabarro, the wealthy Worcestershire Tory MP who sported a spectacular handlebar moustache and a booming voice.

The late Sir Gerald offered Miss Holman about £20-a-week extra to work for him, Mr Proudfoot publicly complained: "Nabarro offered her more money and, as I didn't think she was worth it. I didn't stand in her way.

"There are gentlemen and gentlemen. I must say that the gentleman of the two in this case is the one without the title.

"Christine made a correct market decision. To heck with Nabarro."

Later, Christine achieved some renown, being frequently photographed with Sir Gerald during his trial for alleged dangerous driving at Winchester in 1972.

Throughout the trial, she clutched a piece of lucky white heather for him. Both hugged and wept when he was acquitted.

And for her support, Sir Gerald rewarded Christine with a gleaming dark blue Mini.

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