Wednesday, 3 June 2009
The 'tin-legged' ex-SAS man, the City PR and the £350,000 plot to sell MPs' secrets
By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 2:56 PM on 17th May 2009
A former Parachute Regiment major and an American-born City public relations man are key players behind the sensational leak of MPs’ expenses claims.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has uncovered their role in supplying computer disks containing MPs’ receipts, leading to a string of shattering revelations about politicians’ conduct.
Both acted as middlemen to negotiate the sale of the information, which they apparently obtained from another unknown source preparing it for the House of Commons authorities.
Links in the chain: Henry Gewanter with his wife Sue, pictured in 1992
Last night one of those involved claimed that they could now be made scapegoats by the Government and even feared arrest and ‘torture’.
The main conduit for the information is John Wick. He is a former soldier who is said to have served in the SAS and is now the boss of a London-based private security firm, and was directly involved in offering the computer disks to at least two newspaper groups.
Twice-married Mr Wick, 60, runs International Security Solutions Limited (ISSL), a firm specialising in helping shipping companies deal with the threat of piracy.
He is working with American-born PR man Henry Gewanter, who is known to have passed ‘samples’ of the expenses claims of individual MPs to several newspapers and allegedly asked for fees of up to £350,000, including up to £15,000 in cash just to view the material.
Neither man ever approached The Mail on Sunday.
Last night Mr Gewanter said: ‘The Government is fighting awful hard to suppress the truth about what they have been doing and I have taken a big risk, a personal risk, in bringing this story to light because it is the right thing to do.
‘If good people don’t stand up and do the right thing then the bad people get it all their own way all the time. That is not a good thing for anybody.’
How the pair first became involved in the affair is unclear, but it is believed to be linked to Mr Wick’s military background.
The House of Commons has recently employed former soldiers as ‘data controllers’ to prevent MPs’ personal information being leaked.
It would be ironic if the decision to beef up security in this way led to information being passed to Mr Wick.
Mr Gewanter, who once worked for Lord Bell, a key adviser to Baroness Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, confirmed he was acting for Mr Wick.
‘This story has not come about because of money or anything of that sort,’ said Mr Gewanter.
‘It involves very courageous people who have all taken very big risks in exposing this stuff to public scrutiny and it is incredibly important.’
He said that he and Mr Wick and the others involved now feared they would be ‘made to pay’ for the revelations, which have seen several senior politicians, including Ministers, suspended while their expenses claims are investigated.
Mr Gewanter said he and the others felt ‘a lot of pressure’ after suggestions that the police should be called in to find the moles and prosecute them.
Associate: Sir Brian Goswell, who was chairman of ISMG which collapsed with huge debts
He added: ‘There is a lot of bull about how “we have got to track them down because they having given away this private information and they could now sell it to criminals or terrorists for personal gain”.
‘But everybody involved in this has been very careful to protect the integrity and security of this information.’
Mr Gewanter said they now feared they would be arrested and even suggested they might be ‘tortured’.
He said: ‘There is a chain of people involved, and I understand that everybody is very keen to print my name or John’s name. The Government would like to catch one of us and waterboard the hell out of us until they can get the next one down the chain.’
Despite suggestions that those involved had demanded up to £350,000 for information about the expenses of all 646 MPs, Mr Gewanter said he had earned nothing from his role.
He refused to discuss the deal which saw The Daily Telegraph obtain disks containing copies of every receipt and expenses claim submitted by MPs in the past four and half years.
He said: ‘The real story in my view isn’t about individuals who have shown courage in exposing the misdeeds of public servants. The story is how elected officials have made rules to suit themselves and passed laws exempting them from tax when they steal money from us. They have been very badly behaved.
‘I have not had a penny for [my involvement in] this and it is driving me mad, taking [time] from my home life, my real business. My paying customers are going down the tubes.
‘I am an American. I was brought up there and I believe that a free Press is the most important and the only defence of our personal freedoms, our liberty and democracy.
‘This Government has been systematically cutting back on our freedoms, our liberty and democracy for some years. That is why I have done it and why I have done it for nothing.
‘Your Government seems to think that people like me are about to sell the stuff to criminals and terrorists and are undermining democracy, but I am not. I am exposing these people for what they are.’
He said his involvement would mean ‘a real serious problem. I’ll get deported or I’ll get locked up or they’ll make life miserable for me for ever’.
But he insisted that he and Mr Wick were acting for the public good and had done nothing wrong, adding: ‘No criminal acts have occurred. No criminal charges can be brought. I don’t deal in stolen goods. The stuff was not stolen. I know you don’t understand how that can be, but I can tell you it was not stolen.’
Mr Wick, meanwhile, failed to respond to several attempts by The Mail on Sunday to get him to explain his role.
He has employed many ex-military personnel and senior police officers as security consultants and it has been suggested that one of these contacts asked him to help sell information obtained from the House of Commons.
After 20 years as a security expert, Mr Wick has recently been beset by money problems.
His latest security firm was established at the end of last year after the collapse of another company, ISMG, with massive debts.
ISMG was wound up by liquidators last December after it was unable to pay nearly £400,000 it owed to creditors. Mr Wick is now desperately trying to rebuild his business.
Home: Mr Wick's girlfriend's flat in Worthing, where he is thought to live
After the financial meltdown of his firm, which saw bailiffs arrive at its City offices over an unpaid rates bill, he was forced to give up his membership of the Carlton Club, the historic Conservative gentleman’s club, and has fallen out with several of his former business associates.
His personal circumstances also appear to have suffered. At one stage Mr Wick was living in a £1 million town house in London.
But his current address, registered at Companies House, is a £110,000 flat owned by his girlfriend Tania Hayes, a blonde dental nurse aged about 40, in a rundown Victorian conversion in Worthing, West Sussex.
Mr Wick is said to have expensive tastes. Last month he was planning a trip to Venice and inquiring about £225-a-head tickets for Musica a Palazzo, where guests can dine while they enjoy a selection of famous opera duets sung at their tables.
He has also had to pay for two divorces. He has two grown-up daughters from his first marriage to Penelope, who still lives in Hereford, the military town where the SAS is based and where Mr Wick began his first security business.
More recently he was married to Fiona Antcliffe, a partner in the top public affairs firm Brunswick, who previously worked for former Tory MPs the late George Gardiner and Sports Minister Colin Moynihan, now Lord Moynihan, at the House of Commons.
Sir Brian Goswell, a respected City figure in the property and construction industry, was chairman of ISMG.
Sir Brian, who was close to Margaret Thatcher and helped to fund Michael Portillo’s Commons office, said last night: ‘John Wick is a military man. He told me he had steel pins inserted in his legs after a parachute accident while he was in the SAS. What he is not is much of a businessman.
‘I am not used to being involved with a firm that collapses and is unable to pay its debts. John Wick has listed me as a consultant with his new company and he rings me from time to time, but I do not have much to do with him now.’
Mr Wick’s co-director in ISSL is Oliver Prior, a semi-retired Lloyd’s broker and non-executive director of Oxus Gold, a mining company which was involved in a political storm when the then Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened on its behalf when it lost gold mining licences in Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet republic.
Asked about Mr Wick’s involvement in selling the MPs’ expenses data, Mr Prior said: ‘It would not surprise me – that is the sort of deal John specialises in.
‘He is very well connected but he has not told me about it. As far as I know he is in Greece working on something connected to his anti-piracy work. We supply security advice and trained military personnel to protect ships from pirates and I think that is what he is doing. I am not due to see him until later this month.’
Others listed as consultants on ISSL’s website include a former detective chief inspector and Michael Chandler, the ex-chief investigator of the UN Security Council’s Taliban and Al Qaeda monitoring group.
According to Companies House, Mr Wick has previously employed two former Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Peter Imbert and Sir David McNee, as directors of his various firms.
Mr Wick failed to respond to messages sent via email, left on his mobile phone and at his office, a serviced building, where meeting rooms can be rented by the hour, near the Bank of England.
But following our approaches, on Friday The Mail on Sunday was contacted by Mr Gewanter.
Asked about Mr Wick’s and Mr Gewanter’s roles last night, a spokeswoman for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph refused to comment.