Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Question 100-119)



Mr Forth

  100. I would like to clarify more of Annex O, which seems to be rather key to this whole thing. To help me, where it says, "Approved" and there is a signature and the date, would that signature be Mr Stoney?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  101. We know that he has approved it and we can assume that it was on the date of 25.10.90. Moving over, it says in what looks like the same writing, "Paid by PAGB." Therefore, I think we can make the assumption that the mechanism had been set in train to pay this money.
  (Mr Robinson) You cannot quite say that, can you? There is no date to it, which would be helpful. He is only saying, "Paid by ...".

Mr Lewis

  102. There is a date: 25.10.90.
  (Mr Robinson) It could not have been paid then because we know the cheque did not happen until 7 December. This is what Mr Stoney says in his affidavit, though it is not brought out by the Commissioner and it ties in with what Kevin said. There was one payment to me that was meant to settle everything and that was £175 K. When Mr Stoney got this, he was very busy. Paid by PAGB, recharge Hollis Industries as being the settlement of everything, as being the one thing that we all knew had been paid which was the £150 K for the work done totally separately for Central & Sheerwood. It occurs to me that if he is saying, "Paid" there, that must be therefore some time after the official payment by PAGB. I am sure that was in his affidavit and it bears out my point that that was paid. That was intended, as he said. Would you like me to read his affidavit?

Mr Forth

  103. It may be helpful.
  (Mr Robinson) Let me read what he said on page 84, paragraph seven: "My firm recollection is and has always been that Mr Robinson only received one payment, the payment of £150,000 plus expenses from C&S, and that the Management Fee was never in fact paid. 8. I do not recall writing on the invoice `Paid by PAGB Recharge H Industries.' I have tried to recollect why I wrote this. It directly contradicts my memory, which is that the Management Fee was not in fact paid." That is the Lock payment. I am sorry it is so complicated but I do think we need time to consider this. "At this time I now do not know what caused me to write this note. I understand that a cheque for £200,000 was drawn on the Pergamon AGB Plc bank account in December 1990. The cheque was drawn from a different series of cheques to the cheques drawn from the regular cheque run at Hangar Lane. At this time I was extremely busy working on the Mirror Group float. It is quite possible that someone from the accounts department based at Hangar Lane contacted me in January 1991 i.e. after the month end, and asked who the £200,000 was paid to. Given the extremely hectic atmosphere, it may be that I mistook the £200,000 payment out by Pergamon AGB Plc to have been the money which was to be paid for Mr Robinson's services within C&S, and that this caused me to write `paid' on the invoice. This is a possibility, but at this point in time I cannot now be certain." That was his best interpretation. That was not put before the Committee.

Mr Bottomley

  104. In Annex M, page 87, on page 94 which is eight in the transcript, and page 96 which is ten in the transcript, Mr Stoney says of each page that it is not his habit to write "Paid" on something unless it is paid.
  (Mr Robinson) Yes, but he could have mistaken what was paid. Nobody is putting in dispute that the 150,000 was paid. What I know is that this 200,000 was not paid to me.

  Mr Bottomley: The first question is that the 200,000 was paid. Mr Stoney twice says that he would only have written "Paid" if it had been paid. The second question is whether the money went to TransTec or to you or somewhere else.

Mr Forth

  105. I am working my way through Annex O. You have in passing answered one of the next questions I wanted to put. It says, "Recharge H Industries", which is Hollis Industries?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  106. There is no doubt about that, which ties in with the fact that this was an invoice raised by you on Hollis and they are saying here, "Recharge Hollis." That seems to be beyond doubt.
  (Mr Robinson) I am not sure it was ever recharged to Hollis in Hollis's books.

  107. Our problem here is that we have in front of us a document with annotations on it. I think what I am certainly struggling to do is to say that this is what is in front of me and I am being asked to say that very little of this is what it seems to be. What is clear is that you raised an invoice on Hollis. It says, "Recharge Hollis Industries". It says, "Paid", and you are now suggesting that it may well be that this "Paid" does not refer at all to the 200,000 which is in this invoice; it may be a mistaken reference to an altogether different amount of money.
  (Mr Robinson) It is not me saying that. It is what Mr Stoney himself says. I can turn up his affidavit again.

  108. You are offering that as a possible explanation?
  (Mr Robinson) He is offering it, because he knows I did not get two payments. There is a huge difference.

  109. Can I now turn to the annotations in the bottom left hand corner of Annex O? This unfortunately is not complete in my copy but what it almost certainly says is something along the lines of, "Geoffrey is not registered for VAT" and then it says something which is a bit difficult to decipher, but it almost certainly says, something, something, "Payable to him personally." Why would this appear on this document, do you imagine?
  (Mr Robinson) I can only imagine. I do not recall the telephone conversation with her and I notice that the Commissioner places a great deal of weight on this. I do not know where it leaves us because the issue is not whether it was paid to me personally or paid to TransTec. The issue is was the invoice paid at all. That is the huge issue that has to be faced by the Committee. This was obviously done in great haste, dictated from my home. It is Margaret's type face, typed up at the office. I was in Surrey; she is in Coleshill and probably Mrs Caddock said, "Geoffrey, there is no VAT on the invoice." I was not used to drawing up invoices. It was just to progress the payment that I had done this. I do think I remember Kevin saying, "Geoffrey, if I had an invoice to get ahead with, it would help." She may have said, "We cannot progress this because we do not have any VAT on it." She or I may have said that I was not registered for VAT. I am not sure I knew that at the time. Interestingly, when it came to the 150,000 payment, I registered for VAT because Brenda told me that was the correct thing to do. Here, she may have said—I do not want to put words into her mouth—I could have suggested, "Okay, make it payable to me" to push the thing along and then I made it over to TransTec and we sorted it all out in due course in a proper manner, as we did with the other payment.

  110. Moving on to Annex P and page 28, there is an item seven and these are the Hollis Industries management accounts. It says here, "A management fee of £200,000 paid to Geoffrey Robinson MP ...". Why would it say that?
  (Mr Robinson) I do not know. Ask them. They are responsible for drawing it up. The point you have missed is it says it was paid in October. We all know that the cheque was not paid until December, between the 7th and the 11th. The same people who did these accounts also did the statutory accounts. I made this point very clearly to the DTI inspector and his assistant. That is where the fundamental error comes from obviously in the Hollis accounts, where it puts directors' remuneration at 200,000. It was 30 June that year. Tab five is a cleaner copy.

  111. What I am getting at here is that we have to try to work through in our minds how it is that there is such an apparent catalogue of errors. What we are being asked to believe is that we should not believe anything that we read, but the explanation seems always to be something else and that is difficult.
  (Mr Robinson) I do not think that is the case here. Here you are being asked to take note of a very significant error made within the accounting functions there, which we know to be an error because of the cheque. The whole basis of the charge against me falls if this has been paid here, which we know it has not, and yet that is what gets carried through into the accounts of the company and first alerts everybody to it. It was never paid in October and we can all agree that. I am sorry; I did not write these accounts. I am sure that is how the error got carried through to the accounts. What that does not answer is this cheque. That is one thing and that deals with the accounts issue. What we have not dealt with is the issue of where the cheque went.

Mr Bell

  112. I share the confusion of some of my colleagues that if you did nothing for Hollis why was it Hollis that you billed. It was your invoice.
  (Mr Robinson) I do not know how to explain it to you. The charge is that I was paid fees as a non-executive director. I was asked by Sir Gordon was I paid 200,000 in fees as non-executive chairman of Hollis in that year. We know that it was not in that year I did the work. We also know that the source documentation from which that comes is wrong. I do not have a real problem. I am sorry that colleagues take it differently, not just because I said to Sir Gordon I received no fees as non-executive chairman; I was unpaid. That was a fact. There were no fees. It never entered my mind. Any work I did for Hollis—it was a subsidiary of Hollis. If you want to be pernickety about it and try to say that Geoffrey is lying because he did this work for Hollis, all I can tell you that I had forgotten all about the management contract when I made that statement to Sir Gordon, but even now, having made it, I still maintain my position as non-executive chairman of Hollis that I received no remuneration and that is absolutely correct.

  113. You are a cleverer and sharper chap than I am and much more expert in these things. Would it be normal for you to have something like a management agreement for £200,000, especially one that was not paid, and have forgotten about it?
  (Mr Robinson) There is one good reason why I forgot about it. It was not paid.

  114. Would you not have remembered it all the more if it had not been paid?
  (Mr Robinson) No. I remember the 150 because it was paid. Sami did not remember it and he has a hell of a good memory. He was interviewed. There are several things I would like to say to the Committee: speak to Sami. This is something I could not express myself clearly enough about to the Commissioner. If we had been paid that, we would have known it. We would have remembered it. It would have been a victory. Getting £200,000 out of Mr Maxwell is not easy. Why we did not pursue it, which the Commissioner does not find persuasive, is very simple to my mind. I had settled my own position for the work I had done over three and a half years, very good work, admitted by all the board, in the car companies. I got paid for that and I did not therefore have a problem there. Although nobody can remember the precise words, what was said was we were obviously not going to get paid for the Lock work. Back in November, Michael Stoney promised me—it is in my notebook—"TransTec will be paid this week", TransTec, not me. My notebook does not lie in any respect. The conclusion we came to was that we were by then confident the merger would go through. When we started, we were not confident. If we were not confident we were going to get the benefit of the work we were doing in the company, we would have insisted right to the end to get it. By December/January, we were confident that we would get the benefit. I cannot see anything other than that line of argument being totally persuasive. Even then—this reflects a little on what Mr Bottomley was saying—I can dig out the press cuttings if it is of interest to the Committee of Maxwell in February/March/April; we were meant to be going public, initially in April and then in May, saying he might change his mind and make Central & Sheerwood a property company again. There was that element of uncertainty. I am sure that things had been so committed by then they would have to go ahead, but there was that element of uncertainty. Come December/January, when we were sure we were going to get the company, it was not a big issue for us any more, certainly not in the context of the benefits from the deal.

  115. Clearly we have a common interest in disposing of this as quickly and fairly as we can, which I know you want. How long do you think it will take to go through those boxes?
  (Mr Robinson) I wish I had done it when I said I would. I will do it under proper supervision so nobody can hide or destroy the cheque if it were to prove against me. Ms Filkin has been to the place; I have heard other reports of it. The proposal that has been put to me by Andersens is I could take five boxes at a time. I would insist on there being an independent inspector there so that if the cheque is there and it says, "Pay Mr Geoffrey Robinson", there can be an inspection of it and that will be brought out. That is not the case, of course. There has to be an element of control and an element of four or five boxes at a time. Are there 200 boxes?
  (Ms Filkin) There are quite a lot.

Mr Bell

  116. It pushes it beyond the election.
  (Mr Robinson) That is not the purpose of it. Put yourself in my position. Whatever you think of me, I am being accused of being a liar. I am being accused of being a criminal, of having betrayed my closest associates in Parliament and outside. I am being accused of having lied to this Committee and the previous Commissioner. I am being accused of lying to the House of Commons. There is no way. We have the most massive effort to find the one piece of evidence that the Commissioner needs to make her argument stand up. The one piece of evidence where I am fighting a negative case in the sense that I am trying to prove that I did not have it—whatever it takes I will do it. When we have made the assessment, we have a number of boxes and we have seen the size of the boxes. If you say to me it takes too long, fine, but it is nothing to do with the election. It is going to come back after the election.


  117. Just one question: what action did you take following the 24th October invoice to get that money? It is not a small sum for anybody, what action did you take?
  (Mr Robinson) You can read it in the documents there, Sir. You have a note by Stoney saying "I have chased him once or twice". You have a note in my own notebook saying, I have forgotten the date now, 13th November, saying "Yes, he has promised it". We are pushing all the time to get it.

  118. My experience of people who are owed money is that they tend to remember it rather more than people who owe other people money. The person who is owed money always tends to remember this for quite a long time. When did it start to be removed from your memory?
  (Mr Robinson) Do not forget, I got £150,000 plus expenses within nine days and that was a very considerable remuneration, I thought, taking the Maxwell view on it that it was all one payment and that was apparently how they were looking at it, that was already good. As far as that was concerned, it is set out, and I would again talk about time, and I would ask if Members would be good enough to really study what I have written in my memorandum. It is clear that we would never take the £200,000 as an issue that could put at risk a merger that was offering such immense benefits. I find this is almost implicit in what the Commissioner says herself, the potential benefits to us are so much huger than the £200,000 and, anyway, we had the advantage of that work in the company for no extra expense.

  119. At some stage you had written that off in your own mind?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes, I think probably for me it came when I got the personal money. For Sami, I am sure he would have said "Well, look, for heaven's sake we are getting a very good deal here. It is a fantastic deal. All the money we have spent in Lock is going to come as benefit to us, what is the big issue? Why should we try to put at risk a very good deal for a management contract, the benefit of which we are in time going to inherit anyway?"

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