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Words of Dishonour: Boris Johnson and ‘Guppygate’

Marcus Scriven

First published in the Mail on Sunday, 16 July 1995.

THE telephone call to the Brussels office of the Daily Telegraph was from a desperate man. Darius Guppy, ex-Eton and Oxford, best man to the Princess of Wales’s brother and soon to be one of Britain’s most notorious fraudsters, was becoming agitated.

For weeks, Guppy had been trying to track down a man with whom he had become obsessed, News of the World journalist Stuart Collier, who had been inquiring into his background.

Guppy wanted him stopped, frightened and physically assaulted – and had lined up a mysterious South London figure to arrange it. However, one crucial part of the plan remained elusive – Collier’s private phone number and address.

One man could provide the key: Guppy’s old school and university confidant, Boris Johnson, then the Telegraph’s European correspondent in Brussels.

Today, Johnson and his Right-wing clique enjoy the company of ex-Cabinet Ministers. Through his friend and mentor Simon Heffer, deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, he has championed the cause of the Tory Right, savaging John Major’s record.

In the pages of the Spectator magazine – the bible of those who believe they have a divine right to tell the rest off us how to behave and to vote – he might like to think he has become a modern-day sage. In a recent article, he wrote about what he perceived to be the faults of the British legal system – ironically headlined ‘Law Unto Themselves’.

Johnson also believes in friendship. When Darius Guppy telephoned him about his plan for Collier, Johnson led Guppy to believe that he had arranged for a number of contacts to try to get Collier’s details. It was taking some time, and Johnson appeared worried that he would be caught out. He knew what Guppy was planning for Collier – but, amazingly, Guppy assured him the ‘beating up’ would not be too severe.

The details of Guppy’s extraordinary plan are revealed in a secret tape recording made of Guppy’s home telephone some months before he was charged with a £1.8 million insurance swindle. Guppy was jailed for five years in 1993, a sentence he is still serving. In the recording, which has been voice analysed by experts, Guppy rehearses with Johnson why he wants to take violent revenge on Collier – and how he desperately needs his friend’s help. Guppy and Johnson had a close friendship, forged amid the privileged surroundings of Eton and then Oxford, where the pair became leading lights in one of the university’s most blue-chip dining societies, the Bullingdon.

In the 21-minute conversation, in the summer of 1990, Guppy says he is a potential psychopath, before comparing himself to history’s great generals, from Rommel and Patten to Napoleon. Sometimes shouting, sometimes cajoling, he explains he cannot afford to ‘look stupid’ by delaying the attack on Collier.

He says Johnson has ‘his word of honour’ that his (Johnson’s) role in the assault will remain undetected.

More than once, Johnson tries to find out how severely Collier is to be injured. Guppy tells him ‘not badly at all’.

Johnson: ‘I really, I want to know ...’

Guppy: ‘I guarantee you he will not be seriously hurt.’

Johnson: ‘How badly will he ...’

Guppy, interrupting: ‘He will not have a broken limb or broken arm, he will not be put into intensive care or anything like that. He will probably get a couple of black eyes and a ... a cracked rib or something.’

Johnson: ‘Cracked rib?’

Guppy: ‘Nothing which you didn’t suffer at rugby, OK? But he’ll get scared and that’s what I want ... I want him to get scared, I want him to have no idea who’s behind it, OK? And I want him to realise that he’s ****** someone off and that whoever he’s ****** off is not the sort of person he wants to mess around with.’

Johnson had evidently spoken of Collier before: the conversation begins with him telling Guppy he has someone ‘going through his files’, news Guppy describes as ‘brilliant’ and ‘fantastic’.

But there is no doubt Johnson appears to be afraid of detection. ‘If you **** up, in any way,’ he tells Guppy, ‘if he suspects I’m involved ...’

Guppy: ‘No, no, he won’t.’

When Johnson says Collier will go ‘apeshit’ if he finds out who is responsible for the attack, Guppy says he doesn’t give a **** because no one he has ever met is ‘as psychopathic potentially as me’.

Both agree that things are ‘getting serious’.

Johnson: ‘If it got out ...’

Guppy interrupts: ‘That he’d been beaten up.’

Johnson: ‘Beaten up, it would inevitably get back to the contact.’

Johnson says he has used four contacts to track down information about Collier, and is worried one of them ‘might put two and two together, if he heard that this guy [Collier] had been beaten up.’

Guppy interrupts: ‘But Boris there’s absolutely no ******* proof: you just deny it. I mean, there’s no proof at all.’

Johnson interrupts: ‘Well yeah.’

Guppy: ‘I mean, you know, big deal. You’re sitting in Brussels and the day it happens you’re in Brussels, it’s as simple as that.’

He repeatedly appeals to Johnson to have faith in him. At one stage, Johnson replies: ‘I do have faith in you.’

Guppy insists: ‘As far as I’m concerned, I have never told you what I require this number for. You do not know at all ... so you are totally off the hook.’ He adds: ‘You have nothing to fear. I give you my personal guarantee, OK, and my word of honour.’ By the end of the conversation, Johnson is volunteering to do what he can to help.

Guppy: ‘Well do it discreetly. I ... if it’s in any way going to look suspicious. That’s all I require – just the address: the address and the phone number ... all right? Now I guarantee you, you have nothing to worry about. [Slowly, emphatically] Believe me. All right? You have my personal guarantee. I’ve never let you down, all right?’

Johnson: ‘OK Darrie, I said I’ll do it and I’ll do it. Don’t worry.’

Guppy: ‘Boris, I really mean it, I love you and I will owe you this, all right? And I’m a man who keeps my word.’

The tape recording was made by Peter Risdon, the man hired by Guppy and his partner Ben Marsh to help them fake a jewellery ‘robbery’ in the Halloran House Hotel, New York, in February 1990. Risdon had been told Guppy and Marsh needed to ‘lose’ some gemstones before an audit of their jewellery company, Inca Gemstones. When newspaper reports appeared saying Guppy had made a successful insurance claim for £1.8 million, Risdon – fearing he had been hoodwinked by Guppy – decided to tap Guppy’s telephone at his house in Shawfield Street, Chelsea.

At Guppy’s sensational trial Risdon was a chief prosecution witness, having co-operated with police in bringing him to justice.

At this stage, one has to ask why on earth a respectable journalist was having such a conversation. What is certain is that Boris Johnson has known about this tape’s existence for some time. When, I first approached him about it nearly three years ago, his immediate reply was ‘Oh, God ... oh God.’

Johnson then told me that if he had had this conversation with Guppy, he never actually supplied Collier’s details to him. His defence was clear: ‘I certainly did not attempt to find the address,’ he told me. ‘He’s obviously in cloud cuckoo land. It was all a bit of a joke. It was all rather harmless. It was – just Darry.’

Today, after repeated letters and telephone calls from The Mail on Sunday, and despite having a transcript of the tape recording, Johnson refuses to comment on it now.

It is not suggested that Johnson ever intended to go through with the plan to supply the information Guppy so urgently wanted, but it seems clear that Guppy meant business.

And what of the News of the World reporter, Stuart Collier? ‘I was never attacked,’ said Collier. ‘But I had been looking into the Guppy story, and had passed some information on to the New York police, which seemingly angered Guppy.’

Johnson has been supportive of his friend in print, writing glowingly of Guppy’s ‘ascetic, contemplative intelligence’. And such is Johnson’s position in the political Establishment, that the current issue of Vogue magazine champions him as one of the new leading commentators, popular for his ‘geniality, humour and lack of pomposity’.

Boris Johnson may well be a rising star of the Right. But his strange reticence now about this extraordinary taped conversation will not add to his lustre.