Saudi story’s cover blown
It hurts to say this but I found myself agreeing with Donald Trump this week.
He was spot on to describe the ludicrous antics of the Saudi death squad who butchered Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi – and the ever-changing story of the Saudi Crown Prince and his cronies – as “the worst cover-up ever”.
It beggars belief that a man can walk into a consulate and be murdered, and it has huge implications for press freedom.
I don’t think we will ever get to the bottom of what happened to Mr Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
But it is becoming clear we need to think more carefully about who we choose as allies and trading partners.
How can our Government sit round a table and do arms deals with the Saudis when they know they are dealing with a regime that will murder a journalist just for criticising them?
If our politicians can’t put morals before profits we should replace them.
Over the years I’ve asked quite a few people to sign non-disclosure agreements. But it was always for the reasons these gagging deals were invented in the first place – to ensure that information which could be pinched by business rivals was kept confidential.
When I was developing my skincare brand, I had to share my product ideas and images with potential customers and marketing execs before the actual launch, so I got people to sign NDAs, which is standard procedure.
It never entered my head that anyone could use an NDA to silence victims of sexual abuse, racism or harassment.
The first time I realised it was even a thing was when Harvey Weinstein’s former assistant in London claimed that in return for a payoff she’d had to sign an NDA banning her from talking about the behaviour she’d endured and witnessed while working for him.
Zelda Perkins broke that agreement when she gave evidence to MPs that Weinstein had “sexually assaulted” her and had “attempted to rape” her colleague.
That NDA stated that she had to try to limit what she said if she was ever called to give evidence in any criminal case against the film boss.
She was even banned from seeking medical help over her ordeal unless the doctor she spoke to also signed an NDA. And, the way the law stands, if Weinstein chose to sue her – or any other victim who’d agreed to an NDA – he’d have a case.
He could apply to the courts for an injunction to stop allegations about him being reported and seek damages and costs.
Fortunately, he’s too busy trying to stay out of jail by fighting various criminal charges of sex assault.
But, as we learned this week, he’s not the only super-rich household name to wield the NDA in a bid to protect himself against allegations of vile and possibly illegal behaviour.
There was outrage this week that, after an eight-month Daily Telegraph investigation, the Appeal Court banned the paper from revealing that tycoon Sir Philip Green asked former staff to sign NDAs over claims of sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying.
If it wasn’t for the admirable Labour peer Lord Peter Hain, who used the legal protection of Parliament to name and shame the Topshop boss, we still wouldn’t know about it.
Green, already a pariah after selling the BHS pensioners down the river before eventually stumping up £363million, denies all the allegations.
No doubt there will be more in the coming weeks. And no doubt he’ll deny those too.
But whatever the truth of it, one thing is undeniable – if you are rich and powerful enough you can hire lawyers to run rings around the victims of your gross behaviour while you hide behind a legal cloak of anonymity.
Some will say victims should not take the money. That they should refuse to sign the NDAs and fight for justice in the courts. In an ideal world, that’s what would happen.
But in a world where people are intimidated, embarrassed and terrified of going up against their boss’s army of expensive lawyers, hellbent on painting them as liars and fantasists, in the uncertain hope of eventually winning damages, I can see why signing on the dotted line and running away is a tempting option.
Which is why it’s time we outlawed the use of NDAs to avoid legal responsibility for mistreating employees. Because one look at the people who use them tells us everything we need to know.
There’s something brilliantly life-affirming about Carol Vorderman saying that she doesn’t need a man in her life because at 57 she’s “blissfully single”.
She reckons most relationships have a shelf life and says she’s always happy to move on without a backward glance.
I admire her confidence. But when you look like Carol, finding the next Mr Right Now is never going to be a problem.
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