Owen Oyston is a colourful character. He was born in 1932 , attended St Joseph’s College, Blackpool and briefly had a career as an actor. He appeared in the television series “Crown Court.” However he made a great deal of money through his Estate Agency in the 70’s and 80’s. He sold his estate agency in 1987. His business interests included cable television. In 1990 he took over the chairmanship of Blackpool Football Club. In 1996 he was offered control of Manchester United but refused because it would mean abandoning Blackpool Football Club.
In 1996 he was convicted of rape and sentenced to six years in prison. Owen Oyston was not a typical entrepreneur. He was a supporter of the Labour Party, its biggest individual donor, he supported the miner’s strike and he was a major financial backer of News on Sunday, a brief and unsuccessful attempt to launch a Socialist popular newspaper.
MICHAEL MURRIN FISH AND CHIP SHOP OWNER, “NUTTER” AND RIGHT WING ACTIVIST
He attracted the attention of Michael Murrin. Michael Murrin had owned a fish and chip shop in Longridge. He moved to Preston where he pursued his obsession with investigating Labour Party councillors and activists. Chris More, a private investigator who worked for Michael Murrin, said that he was “a nutcase.” Michael Murrin was an obsessive character but occasionally his intuitions may have been right. He was convinced that there was a paedophile ring operating in the Establishment. He named Jimmy Savile at an earlier stage. He was a man on a mission and his particular mission was exposing corruption amongst Socialists. He conducted investigations using his own money and later he was able to attract funding from backers. Owen Oyston was a particular object of his interest. A straightforward right-wing businessman might well feel antagonism to Owen Oyston. In addition Murrin was convinced that Owen Oyston was involved with a “Preston Mafia” of Labour Councillors who were developing Preston Docks. He conducted investigations and sent dossiers to government ministers. There was a criminal investigation which did not find evidence of criminal activity. Michael Murrin also instigated investigations into Liverpool Council which also failed to find evidence. Over the years Michael Murrin must have instigated dozens of criminal investigations which failed through lack of evidence. In the course of his investigations he employed Chris More. Chris More was a private investigator and one of the most talented hackers in Britain. He was able to use his skills to illegally obtain access to a range of documents including Owen Oyston’s tax return. Chris More went on to work for Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The investigation into the “Preston Mafia” who included Frank McGrath came to nothing. There may well be no connection with the fact that the builder involved in the development of Preston Dock was a Conservative Party donor.
PETER BLAKER AND ROBERT ATKINS
However Michael Murrin, through his interest in Owen Oyston, attracted financial support for further investigations from three characters, Peter Blaker, Robert Atkins and Bill Harrison. Peter Blaker was the MP for Blackpool South. He had a natural interest in discrediting Owen Oyston because they were rivals in the development of cable television. Robert Atkins was the MP for South Ribble and a close friend of John Major.
Bill Harrison was a successful Lancashire Property Developer. He had leased a site near Marton Mere and developed it as a caravan park. The site was leased from Blackpool Borough and Bill Harrison’s was the sole tender. The deal was criticised by the Sunday Times and by the Caravan Owners Association.
The Conservative leader of Lancashire Council was Len Broughton. Margaret Thatcher and other Conservative Ministers often stayed at Bill Harrison’s Preston home.
In 1975 Bill Harrison’s daughter was involved in a car accident in Kirkham in which two young women pedestrians were killed. Bill Harrison rang Len Broughton to ask for details of the Lancashire Chief Constable. Bill Harrison contacted the Chief Constable, Stanley Parr. Subsequently Bill Harrison’s daughter was charged with careless driving rather than the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving. Subsequently this was part of a series of charges against Stanley Parr which led to his dismissal in 1977.
Bill Harrison may have blamed Owen Oyston for the publication of an article about the case. Whatever the reason Michael Murrin, Peter Blaker, Robert Atkins and Bill Harrison continued to investigate Owen Oyston and to report their findings to interested parties such as the Inland Revenue. This must have caused annoyance and inconvenience to Owen Oyston but nothing substantial was discovered.
Michael Murrin’s efforts had been expensive and he was close to bankruptcy. He was threatened with a libel case by Owen Oyston and the two men met at Owen Oyson’s home. Michael Murrin apologised and offered Owen Oyston tapes of his conversations with Peter Blaker, Robert Atkins and Bill Harrison. The tapes were evidence that there had been a conspiracy to undermine Owen Oyston and could form the basis of a legal action against Atkins, Harrison and Blaker. The three had given financial support to obtain information about Owen Oyston by illegal means. It may not be entirely a coincidence that shortly afterwards Robert Atkins resigned as Countryside Minister to spend more time with his family.
RAPE VICTIMS “A” AND “B”
And shortly before the legal case was to be heard Owen Oyston was arrested and charged with rape. For Atkins, Harrison and Blaker this was convenient. Owen Oyston did not deny that he had used his wealth and power to seduce young women. We may feel that this is unethical but then again we have probably never been faced with that temptation. The circumstances of the charges against Owen Oyston give rise to suspicion. Owen Oyston was charged on two rape charges. The charges involved two separate trials. Some people may think that this was a shrewd move on the part of enemies of Owen Oyston because if he had been tried on both counts at the same trial it might have appeared obvious that the charges were groundless. Because of the rules regarding anonymity the two victims are referred to as “A” and “B”.
The case of “A” collapsed because she lied. She had been Oyston’s mistress before and after the alleged rape. This does raise the question of why she was prepared to put herself through this ordeal. The only explanation I can think of is that she was offered inducements by people eager to convict Owen Oyston. Who by?
The second trial resulted in a conviction. The jury had difficulty reaching a verdict and since it is impossible that they were unaware of other charges against Owen Oyston they may have reached their verdict on a “no smoke without a fire” basis. It is true that Owen Oyston used his money and influence to have relations with young girls on an industrial scale. The jury may have felt he was generally sleazy. But would a man with all the young girls he could deal with bother with the inconvenience of rape?
Owen Oyston was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. There are reasons to doubt the conviction. The girl, “B”, was sixteen at the time. She had a history of drug misuse including hallucinogenics which may have impaired her memory. She was offered immunity from prosecution regarding her drug-taking. “B” was unable to supply a date for the rape. She could not say what month or year it had taken place. The girl’s friend who was with her denied her version of events and said afterwards that she would believe for the rest of her life that an injustice had been done. “B” was given a sum of money as an out of court settlement for psychological damage. She benefitted financially. “B” did not make an accusation at the time and the accusation was made more than two years after the event. There was no medical or forensic evidence that the event had taken place. Owen Oyston not only denied the rape but denied having sexual intercourse with the victim. He admitted having had sexual intercourse with other girls of a similar age.
In other cases a line of defence would be that consensual intercourse had taken place. This would be hard to disprove. Owen Oyston did not admit guilt though this would have helped him to obtain early release through parole. Nobody knows if Owen Oyston is guilty except himself and the girl “B” but the evidence does not establish that Owen Oyston was guilty “beyond reasonable doubt.”
Imagine a murder trial being conducted on the basis of the evidence of a sixteen year old heavy drug user with no body, no date, the witness only recalling the event four years after it took place and her evidence being disputed by the only other witness. Imagine that she stood to benefit by giving evidence. And finally imagine that the source of the accusation was not a police investigation but evidence obtained by illegal methods by an unsavoury band of obsessives and business rivals. Something not right there.
The Chief Constable Stanley Parr was dismissed after an enquiry. He was subsequently fined following a motor accident which he appears to have tried to conceal by implying that his car was stolen at the time of the accident. Frank McGrath the alleged member of the “Preston Mafia” investigated by Michael Murrin was later imprisoned for money laundering for a drugs baron, Chris More the private investigator was imprisoned for helping the escape of his son who was accused of murdering a cannabis farmer in Cheshire. Michael Murrin continues to write letters to the Queen.
The evidence that Owen Oyston was guilty of rape is questionable. It is not questionable that he attracted prolonged hostile attention from a group of right wing Conservatives who used illegal methods and had motivations ranging from business rivalry to political antagonism. If you think Owen Oyston is sleazy take a look at his opponents. These men were not acting in the interests of justice. They used influence to escape justice and to break the law. They were using their wealth to pursue a man whose politics they disapproved of. If they were keen to seek out corruption they need not look far.
It is worth reflecting that whilst efforts were made to convict Owen Oyston on questionable charges accusations of Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith did not result in action. To defend an accused rapist is not to defend rape but to say that in this specific case the evidence would not be acceptable in any other case such as fraud. You do not need to admire Owen Oyston to realise that his crime was supporting Left Wing causes and incurring the wrath of rivals in the property development and cable television business.
Sources The most coherent account of the events is an article in “Lobster” Winter 1998 issue 34 by Andrew Rosthorn which is the basis for much of this article. Available online. A concise summary of the case is made by Workington MP Dale Campbell-Savours in Hansard 5 March 1998, available online.