Thatcher Denies Offer of Knighthood to Key Figure in Copter Debate

From Reuters

The biggest private shareholder in the Westland helicopter firm unloaded a political bombshell today, saying he was offered a knighthood if he would stop “embarrassing” the Thatcher government with his opposition to a U.S. rescue of the ailing company.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher quickly denied that any member of her government offered such a bribe, but she failed to say so in Parliament, sparking an uproar in the House of Commons where members charged that they were cheated of a chance to question her on the burgeoning scandal.

Alan Bristow, biggest private shareholder in the Westland helicopter firm, alleged on television that he was offered a knighthood if he would stop embarrassing the government with his opposition to an American-led rescue of the firm.


He said the offer came from two peers, members of the House of Lords. Since all honors are the gift of the prime minister, his allegation was a bombshell.

With newspaper headlines proclaiming “Tory Bribe Sensation,” Thatcher issued a denial stating: “No member of the government, nor anyone acting on its behalf, has made any offer of an honor to Mr. Bristow. . . .

“No approach has been made to me that any such offer be considered. I should have dismissed any such approach out of hand as a total abuse of the honors system.”

Bristow said the peers, whom he refused to name, made the offer at an “eyeball-to-eyeball” meeting on the eve of a crucial shareholders’ meeting last month. He said he turned them down.

Subsequently, Bristow used his 15% holding to block the American rescue package from the Sikorsky and Fiat firms. He backs a rival bid by a European consortium.

Heseltine’s Resignation

Thatcher has professed neutrality over the bids, but when Defense Minister Michael Heseltine resigned last month over his backing for the consortium, he charged that both she and Trade Minister Leon Brittan were covertly lobbying for the U.S. bid.

Brittan himself was forced out 15 days later amid questions about the accuracy of Westland statements he made to Parliament.