Purple Homicide: Fear and Loathing on Knutsford Heath, a pantomime by John Sweeney

This is at the same time the funniest and the most frightening book I have ever read. It is the account of how former BBC journalist Martin Bell, noted in particular for his front-line reports from the Bosnian civil war and his trademark crumpled white suit (which did not prevent his being wounded) stood in the 1997 General Election in the Tatton constituency against the sitting Conservative MP Neil Hamilton, who had been implicated – but at that time, not proven to be involved – in a scandal involving taking cash from the Harrods owner Mohammed el-Fayed for asking Parliamentary questions. Bell stood as an independent, ‘anti-sleaze’ candidate, and the other major political parties withdrew their candidates to allow him a clear shot at a major target.

The book details the campaign day-by-day in the constituency, with wry humour and detailed satirical pen-portraits of many of the players. Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine were portrayed in a very unfavourable light, best described as ‘harsh but fair’; and the antics of both their supporters and the British media are by turns funny and shocking. This is the frightening part of the book – that and the expose of Hamilton’s record and his past – and at the time, his involvement in the ‘cash for questions’ matter was sub judice,and was not referred to (by Bell) in the campaign.

Against the odds, Bell won. Hamilton was exposed. This book tells how.


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