Britain's Family Affair

June 01, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- The judge said the government minister who seduced his wife and his two step-daughters ought to be horsewhipped -- and the minister agreed.

The latest British sex scandal unfolds in public like an overheated smarmy soap opera, daily offering new complications, new revelations and new titillations.

Bad sex has plagued the Conservative government like tales told by Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims. Conservative Party sex scandals have ranged from relatively common multiple mistresses to more rare autoerotic asphyxiation.

The latest: Alan Clark, former Conservative minister for defense procurement, last year published his diaries, which include tales of a family affair with a woman and her two daughters, whom he called "the coven."

The diaries have been widely praised as readable and have been popular around the world, outselling the memoirs of his one-time boss, Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister. Now, the anonymous woman in Mr. Clark's memoirs has stepped forward to tell her side of the tale.

Valerie Harkess, 57, the wife of a barrister and former deputy circuit court judge, disclosed Sunday in the News of the World that she had been Mr. Clark's mistress for 14 years. She continued the affair, she said, even after learning from Mr. Clark's memoirs that he had seduced her daughters a decade ago.

"I was very culpable in that and I make no excuses for myself, except that I was caught in the vortex, the whirlpool," she told reporters after arriving in London yesterday. Mrs. Harkess and her husband James, 64, now live in South Africa in retirement, along with daughter Josephine, 34.

"I felt myself drawn more and more into it," she said, "and I simply couldn't swim strongly enough for the shore."

Her husband said, "Call me an old fool, but I trusted that man.

"If I had known about it I would have horsewhipped the man," he said.

Besieged at his family home, Saltwood Castle, in Kent, Mr. Clark told reporters "I deserve to be horsewhipped. It all happened a very long time ago, and I am trying to keep a low profile.

"I probably have a different sense of morality to most people," he said. "I regret what happened and the pain it has caused people, but I do not regret anything in the book."

Mr. Clark is very rich, having inherited most of his $60 million fortune from his father, Kenneth Clark, the renowned art historian perhaps best known for his suave narration of the television documentary, "Civilisation."

Mr. Clark's wife, Jane, 52, dismissed the whole affair with aristocratic hauteur: "Quite frankly, if you bed people from below-stairs class, they do go to the papers, don't they?"

Speculation about the motives of the Harkess family focused on what the British media might have paid them, especially after it became know they were being advised by an agent named Max Clifford, the man who brokered gym photos of Princess Diana

Mr. Harkess, a Conservative, hails from Australia, where his family owned a 600,000-acre sheep ranch. He is also wealthy, and most reporters here seemed to believe the News of the World editor, who said Mr. Harkess' motive was "vengeance."

Mr. Harkess said he'd brought his family back to England because "it is the most important thing in our lives to tell the truth about [Mr. Clark], something of the background of the man who I consider to be lecherous and arrogant and deceitful and a poor leader of men which he has aspired to be."

The older daughter, Alison, 36, who has homes in London, Bavaria, Geneva and the Caribbean, has remained silent. She is said to be estranged from her family because of the Clark affair.

She is now the wife of Sergei Kausov, a Russian who was once married to Christina Onassis, but that was in another soap opera.

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