I was able to assist detectives to establish that Tory minister was being wrongly accused
By David Hencke | 22 June 2013
The allegations – part of the Met’s ‘Operation Fairbank’ – took me back 18 years, to when I was seconded from The Guardian, with the agreement of its then editor, Peter Preston, to work as a consultant with ITV’s programme, The Cook Report.
I was working on a sting operation against Ian Greer Associates, political lobbyists. It led to the “cash for questions” scandal.
The accusation made to ‘Operation Fairbank’ was that Ian Greer introduced Clarke to an actor – who, posing as a 15-year-old, was hired as part of the sting operation – and that the minister sexually touched up the ”boy”.
Because of my role on the programme, I know that there is no basis for the accusation against Clarke
Because of my work on the project, I was able to help the police establish that Clarke was being wrongly accused.
The Cook Report, which was a current-affairs programme made by Central TV, had contacted me because of an article that I wrote with John Mullin, who went on to become editor of The Independent on Sunday, about the lobbying company and its high-level political contacts.
The claim was that the Clarke incident had been secretly filmed, was set out in the transcripts of the footage, and had been discussed by people working on the programme.
But this simply did not happen.
During this period, I was advising the programme-makers on which ministers to pursue during the investigation. Clarke was not even a target for The Cook Report because there was no evidence that he had ever worked with Greer.
I had made an extensive trawl of MPs and ministers connected with the lobbying company. Ian Greer supplied staffers to help them during the election campaigns of 1987 and 1992. But Clarke, who had a safe seat anyway, was not on that list.
At the time, Clarke was chancellor in John Major’s government. And the idea that he would have time to pay social visits to see Greer in his office strikes me as far-fetched.
Then there is an allegation that the incident was secretly filmed. The team producing the programme used to bring a video of each round of secret filming to my home for me to view.
This was so that I could provide guidance on what might be improper. There was no scene with Clarke in any of that footage.
The programme was abandoned half way through production and never broadcast.
This was because the team discovered that Greer had become a lobbyist for Carlton Television, which had taken over Central TV. The team feared that the sting would leak to Greer.
The programme was not abandoned because it was failing to achieve results.
I obtained the entire transcripts of the footage after it was halted. To the annoyance of Central TV, the transcripts then formed the main part of a front-page story in The Guardian.
There was nothing in the transcripts about Clarke.
So, because of my role on the programme, I know that there is no basis for the accusation against Clarke. I have checked with another member of the team who had a key role in the production, and he confirmed the position to me.
As he points out, if such an incident had happened, it would not have gone unnoticed. Indeed, it would have been a big talking point, and we would have had to decide what to do with such material.
As a result, I felt compelled to give a statement to the police saying that I had no evidence or knowledge of such an incident taking place.