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8 April  
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1997: BBC TV newsman turns politician
Veteran war reporter Martin Bell has vowed to fight on to victory over disgraced Conservative MP Neil Hamilton in the general election battle for the constituency of Tatton.

The newsman-turned-political candidate is campaigning as an independent, although he has been encouraged to stand by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Local Conservatives gave their backing tonight to Mr Hamilton, after he again denied taking bribes from Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods in the cash-for-questions scandal.

The former newsman, who made his name reporting from war zones like Bosnia in his trademark white suit, told a news conference: "I want to get him out - I really do."

I really want this to be a decent and dignified campaign
Martin Bell
He continued: "I had hoped mine would be the shortest political campaign in history. But I am going to fight hard."

Mr Bell announced his official candidacy yesterday after the local Labour candidate offered to withdraw from the election and give a free run to an anti-sleaze candidate.

Mr Hamilton has been accused of taking cash in return for asking parliamentary questions and dodging tax and failing to declare a luxury stay at the Paris Ritz.

When Mr Bell arrived in the Cheshire constituency last week he hoped that by merely suggesting he might stand, the local Tories would decide to throw out their MP and look for a new candidate.

Instead Mr Hamilton has vowed to fight on, with the support of local Tories who voted by 182 to 100 in favour of him standing, and Mr Bell is committed to stay the course.

Earlier today he paid his first official visit to the constituency as its independent candidate.

He was ambushed by Mr Hamilton and his wife, Christine, as newsmen crowded round him on Knutsford Heath.

Mr Bell, flanked by his daughter Melissa and Bosnia war hero Colonel Bob Stewart shook hands with Mr Hamilton.

He said: "I really want this to be a decent and dignified campaign."

Mr Hamilton said he wanted Mr Bell to stand as an independent and not an anti-corruption candidate.

He claims he is innocent of the allegations made against him - although he has admitted accepting hospitality which he had not declared.

The former TV reporter is currently the bookies' favourite to oust Mr Hamilton.

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Watch/Listen
Martin Bell (R) Neil Hamilton (L) in front of cameramen
Martin Bell faces up to his Tory opponent Neil Hamilton

Bell and Hamilton square up on the common



In Context
Martin Bell resigned from the BBC the following day (9 April).

Neil Hamilton tried to take legal action to stop Mr Bell standing as an anti-corruption candidate - but the bid failed.

Mr Bell went on to win the seat with a majority of over 11,000, overturning what had once been the third biggest Tory majority in the country.

He remained in parliament for one term - although he did stand as an anti-corruption candidate in the constituency of Brentwood and Ongar in the 2001 election but failed to oust the sitting Conservative MP.

In 2004 he stood for the European Parliament but failed to get elected and afterwards said he was retiring from politics.

Mr Hamilton continued to protest his innocence, but his libel action failed and in 2001 he was declared bankrupt.

Stories From 8 Apr


 
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