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Chris Lloyd looks at how David Abrahams first came to prominence in an extraordinary series of events in the early Nineties
THE brown cardboard packet in The Northern Echo's library is marked "ABRAHAMS, David. Standing as an MP". In taking it down from the shelf and looking inside, one is opening a can of worms.
Because wriggling around inside are the stories of his bogus wife, of how he came to have two names, of how he campaigned for the homeless but was accused of making a tenant illegally homeless, of how the leadership of a local Labour Party resigned en masse because of him, and of how he ended up in Amsterdam with a conman.
David Abrahams, the man now at the centre of Labour's funding row, touched North Yorkshire very briefly in the early Nineties, but he made a lasting impression.
He was selected on September 7, 1990, to stand in Richmond against William Hague, who had won the 1989 by-election with a 2,634 majority. The SDP had been Mr Hague's nearest challenger; the Labour candidate Frank Robson, a Darlington councillor, had lost his deposit, and prostitute/dominatrix Lindi St Clair - Miss Whiplash - had provided the entertainment.
In stepped Mr Abrahams, whose curriculum vitae said he was a 41-year-old self-employed retail manager.
He was married to Anthea, said the Echo, and they had a son.
His CV also reveals that he had been a Labour member since he was 16, that he had held senior regional positions in the party, had been a Tyne and Wear county councillor, was a union member and worked with groups supporting prisoners and Alzheimer's sufferers. Written on the top of his CV is the fact that his father, Bennie, was the former Lord Mayor of Newcastle.
THE CV concludes with his aims "to arrest this constituency from the opposition by means of organisation, agitation and education". He was certainly agitated, popping into the Echo's Northallerton office extremely regularly to have his say on any issue. He was concerned about cuts in fire, health, education and transport, and so concerned about the homeless that one snowy January night in 1991 he took part in a sponsored sleep-out.
A week later, Newcastle City Council announced it was prosecuting him for illegally evicting a tenant from one of his 200 properties. Mr Abrahams vigorously denied the charges - he was cleared seven months later - but Richmond officials were surprised to learn that their "self-employed retail manager"
was in fact a wealthy property dealer.
Even more peculiar, they learned in his property dealings, their candidate called himself David Martin whereas in every other walk of life he called himself David Martin Abrahams.
"The name has been registered since I was 16. It's my own name," explained Mr Abrahams (or was it Mr Martin?). Apparently, his father - the former Lord Mayor - had said the name Abrahams was so well known in Newcastle that he should be completely independent and go by a different moniker.
By now, the name Abrahams was becoming increasingly well-known across the North-East.
"Mr Abrahams is alleged to have introduced a woman as his wife when she was not," said the Echo on March 25, 1991. This was the "bogus wife" story.
The blonde Andrea, who had been mentioned in the Echo six months earlier, turned out to be Anthea Bailey who was, in fact, divorced from someone else.
She claimed that she and her 11-year old son had been posing as the unmarried Mr Abrahams' family.
This, she said, was a "business arrangement" so he could create "the right impression" with the Richmond selection committee.
Mr Abrahams said it was all "totally false", but did not elaborate. Instead, he took legal action against Newcastle newspaper the Sunday Sun, from where many of these nasty stories emanated. Indeed, on May 17, 1991, the Sunday Sun was fined £50,000 for contempt of court. It had broken its promise that it would not print allegations of Mr Abrahams' dishonesty in using two names.
Mr Abrahams then threatened libel action against the paper which would have tested the truth of all the allegations against him. Perhaps tellingly, that action never materialised.
By this time, though, the Richmond Labour Party was becoming weary. A bitter deselection meeting had been held in April and Mr Abrahams had clung to his position by 24 votes to 22.
In protest, eight local officials resigned en masse.
Out-going party chairman Steve Hoyland said: "We believe that David Abrahams is totally unsuitable to be the prospective Parliamentary candidate for this constituency and have no confidence whatsoever in him."
Which is quite damning, really.
Mr Abrahams dismissed the "rebellious minority"
and appointed a new agent. However, he refused to tell the press the new agent's name because she wanted to work in private. Given that dealing with the press is one of an agent's main duties, this was an unusual state of affairs.
"We can think of no precedent in Parliamentary history for such action and find it hard to believe that an agent working under anonymity will be very effective,"
said the Echo in an editorial headlined "The Secret Agent".
The plotline was becoming as complicated as a Joseph Conrad novel. In August, Mr Abrahams asked the High Court to declare the deselection process illegal.
He lost, and in September was deselected.
He refused to accept the deselection and declared: "I am not dejected. I am not demoralised and I am far from defunct. I am fighting and fighting fit."
Indeed, despite everything, still describing himself as the Labour candidate, he started fighting for a hospice for Northallerton. He stirred up controversy by saying that rioters who had wrecked a pub in Elswick, Newcastle - apparently yards from where he had been born - were "courageous, talented and very resourceful people".
He said: "It takes a lot of courage and guts to bring to public attention a festering sore."
THEN, extraordinarily, in November 1991, it emerged that Mr Abrahams had been lured to Amsterdam by a man purporting to be a private detective. The spy claimed he had been hired by Richmond officials to bug Mr Abrahams' phone.
Instead, the spy offered to sell Mr Abrahams the evidence.
A national newspaper alleged that Mr Abrahams had handed over money to the man, who turned out to be the notorious conman Joe Flynn.
Enigmatically, Mr Abrahams - who 12 months after being 41 had become 46 and who 16 years later is described as being 63 or 53 - said: "It's quite a mystery."
The saga finally came to a conclusion on January 29, 1992, when Labour's National Executive Committee upheld Mr Abrahams' deselection.
He said: "I very much regret leaving my position as prospective MP, but I hope to continue serving the Labour Party as I always have done."
The Northern Echo's editorial began: "Richmond's Labour Party was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief last night after its limpet-like Parliamentary candidate was finally shaken loose."
And so the paper's librarian was instructed to gather up all the pictures and cuttings from the preceding 17 months and put them in Mr Abrahams' brown cardboard file. Just for the sake of accuracy, the librarian scribbled out the words "Standing as an MP" and wrote "deselected candidate".
The file was popped back on the shelf where it remained for 16 years until Mr Abrahams popped up in the front row of Tony Blair's farewell speech in Trimdon. What should we write on the packet this time when we slip it back? Fantasist?