By Danny Morrison
Only once did I feel any sympathy for Margaret Thatcher. It was January 1982 and her son Mark was lost in the Sahara Desert whilst rallying. A camera caught her going into Number 10 and she was clearly distraught at the thought of her helpless son dying from hunger and thirst. It occurred to me: maybe now she realises how the mother of a hunger striker felt.
Anyway, 29-year-old Mark was found by a search party after three days. As we know to our cost, this personal experience never humanised Thatcher.
Before she left office she brought back the concept of hereditary honours which is why her son is now Sir Mark. Or, rather, Sir Mark, POW.
Yes, the brat was arrested in South Africa on Wednesday in connection with allegedly funding an attempted coup against President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea. The alleged plotters were said to be hoping to exploit Equatorial Guinea’s massive oil reserves by installing their own leader, Severo Moto.
There was no time for loving when they came in the morning. Thatcher was seized in his silk pyjamas. The South African authorities moved against him when they discovered that his house had been put on the market, his bags had been packed, his two children had been booked into boarding schools in the USA and Sir Mark and his wife had one-way tickets to the States. However, he made bail and is now under house arrest in Cape Town.
Sir Mark’s neighbour and close friend in the exclusive Cape Town suburb of Constantia was Simon Mann, a former SAS officer who served in the six counties before becoming a soldier of fortune. The two were involved in business deals together. Last March Mann was arrested on the runway of the main airport in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. He was waiting to take possession of rifles, mortar bombs, rocket launchers and ammunition. They were to be loaded onto a Boeing 727 which had been specially converted so that it could land on a short strip. On board the plane were 64 former South African soldiers who had fought for the apartheid government but who had turned mercenary.
Last January Mann had been introduced by Nick du Toit to a Zimbabwean arms dealer and paid a deposit on the weapons worth £100,000. Du Toit, whose business partner is a minister in the government of Equatorial Guinea, was being monitored by South African intelligence. After Mann’s arrest in March the authorities in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, swooped on Du Toit and fourteen others, who were, apparently, part of the advance party. They were charged with plotting, along with exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto, to overthrow the government in a coup. Moto, who was on stand-by in a neighbouring country, was to fly by helicopter to Malabo after the coup and be declared President. It is suggested that a week before the attempted coup Mark Thatcher deposited $100,000 dollars into Mann’s account to cover the costs of the helicopter.
Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony with a population slightly larger than Belfast’s. Its inhabitants live in abject poverty. It became a coveted possession after oil and gas were discovered and produced in the 1990s. The people live under the dictatorship of President Obiang who killed his own uncle to take power in a coup in 1979.
It just shows you the damage that Thatcher caused when she ended the right to remain silent. Du Toit couldn’t wait to tell the court in Guinea that the mastermind of the coup attempt was Simon Mann. Mann couldn’t wait to make a signed statement after his arrest stating that Ely Calil (a Chelsea-based oil billionaire) introduced him to Severo Moto in Madrid. In jail in Zimbabwe Mann - who had clearly never heard of H-Block ‘comms’ - wrote his wife a very, very large smuggled letter which was intercepted by South African Intelligence. You would hardly have needed Enigma to break the clever codes used by the former Etonian who demanded that his friends on the outside use their money and influence to get him released.
“Our situation is not good and it is very URGENT. They [the lawyers] get no reply from Smelly and Scratcher [who] asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix race was over!
“We need heavy influence of the sort that [removed for possible legal reasons] Smelly, Scratcher. David Hart and it needs to be used heavily and now. Once we get into a trial scenario we are fucked. Anyone and everyone in this is in it - good times or bad. Now its bad times and everyone has to fucking pull their weight.”
After a glance the authorities worked out that Scratcher was slang for Thatcher and Smelly slang for Ely (Calil, whom Equatorial Guinea accuses of helping to organise the coup). David Hart, a millionaire property developer, was a journalist for ‘The Times’ and an adviser to Thatcher during the 1984 miners’ strike.
The investigation also shows that one JH Archer - otherwise known as Jeffrey - deposited $134,000 dollars in Mann’s account, four days before the attempted coup. Last Thursday Mann pleaded guilty to attempting to buy arms but denied planning a coup and said the arms were for guarding mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He will be sentenced in September. The mercenaries on the plane admitted breaching immigration and aviation laws.
Sympathy has been pouring in for the young, 51-year-old Mark. In an editorial the Scottish ‘Daily Record’ said: “Don’t even think of shedding a tear for Mark, sorry, Sir Mark. This waste of space would be even more of a nonentity than he is if he did not trade on the name of his discredited mother, Margaret. With no achievements of his own, he lives a sad life, only defined by being the offspring of a hate figure. Still, he manages to make an obscene amount of money on the back of his mother’s infamy for putting 3.5 million people out of work and consigning a generation to a life of misery and poverty.”
Mark did very well at school and left with three ‘O’ Levels. He failed his accountancy exams three times. Then he got lost in the desert. He married Texas millionaire Diane Burgdof and they moved to South Africa, where he was questioned as part of an anti-corruption investigation of government officials. There have been hurtful allegations that he shamelessly traded on his mother’s name and through her connections in Saudi Arabia and Oman made a fortune on arms deals.
Mrs Thatcher is now in a terrible predicament. Frankly, it would be awful if Mark was extradited as a common criminal to Equatorial Guinea where there is state censorship, they ill-treat people, have non-jury courts and shoot-to-kill. How would she cope seeing her son in a prison uniform? How would she cope herself with strip searches? And after all she has done for the poor of Africa. Is there no justice in this world?