Author says book portrays him as 'mean and arrogant'
Publisher told to withdraw memoir or face legal action
The Guardian 2nd August 2008
Twenty years after copies of the Satanic Verses were cast into pyres around the world and its author hounded into hiding after a fatwa against him, Salman Rushdie has once again found himself haunted by a controversial book.
But this time the words are not his own but those of one of the special branch officers who protected him. And the Booker Prize-winning writer is so unhappy over what he sees as the book's libellous portrayal of him as "mean, nasty, tight-fisted, arrogant and extremely unpleasant" that he is threatening to sue its publishers.
Ron Evans, the book's author, claims Rushdie was imprisoned by his guards who "got so fed up with his attitude that they locked him in a cupboard under the stairs and all went to the local pub for a pint or two. When they were suitably refreshed they came back and let him out."
According to On Her Majesty's Service, which is due to be published next week, the police nicknamed Rushdie Scruffy because of his unkempt appearance. In the book, to be printed by John Blake Publishing Ltd, Evans says that when officers asked to drink some bottles- of red wine they had found, Rushdie wanted to charge them £45 each. The book also alleges that when officers stayed overnight in his home, he billed the Metropolitan police ' for rent of "at least forty quid a night for special branch officers to risk their lives to stop him being taken out by followers of the fatwa". Evans wrote: "We were paying or, rather, the taxpayer was paying Rushdie to protect him!"
Rushdie told the Guardian: "He is portraying me as mean, nasty, tight-fisted, arrogant and extremely unpleasant. In my humble opinion I am none of those things." The author was alerted to the claims by a newspaper story about the alleged cupboard incident last weekend, which has subsequently been picked up on websites and blogs.
Rushdie said: "The simple fact of the matter is that nothing of this sort happened. My relationship with my protection team was always cordial, certainly entirely professional. This kind of absurd behaviour never occurred. There are three references in his article to drinking on duty - it is absolutely forbidden for police officers, particularly in possession of firearms, to drink on duty. They did not do so.
"The idea of them raiding my friend's wine cellars then me asking them to pay for this is completely fictitious. It is absurd the idea that they would lock me in a cupboard and go to the pub.
"It is like a bad comedy. My relations with the protection officers were cordial and I am still friendly with a few of them. At the end of my nine years of protection they held a reception for me. I had a lot of sympathy and understanding from the police. Our relationship was the exact opposite of what has been written. I never heard myself called by the name Scruffy in nine years."
Evans - described in promotional material for the book as the first protection officer ever to break rank - describes how when the entourage was forced to seek refuge in poet James Fenton's cottage after their cover had been broken, Rushdie demanded privacy so he could spend time with his girlfriend, adding: "I tried to tell him that having us around hadn't put Scruffy off his stroke in the past."
Rushdie said: "I don't even want to dignify that with a response. The police always had enormous respect for my privacy. They understood it was very difficult for me to live in a house with four strangers. It is an obscenity to suggest that I asked people to leave the room so that I could have sex with my girlfriend. I will not have that said about me.
"It is extraordinary to have had to go through an experience as unpleasant as that period of sequestration to have somebody to try to cash in giving a false portrait to a publisher. A very senior member of the Scotland Yard protection service telephoned me to apologise and said the police force felt humiliated and embarrassed."
Rushdie acknowledged that rent was paid to him for the accommodation provided to police officers but said this was at the behest of the police because of the high costs of renting houses regarded as safe enough to protect him. He said: "Police officers thought if I was incurring costs it would be fair to contribute to that. That was an offer made to me by senior officers of special branch, it was never a request of mine. To say that I was trying to extort money from them for my protection is an obscene distortion of the truth."
Mark Stephens, Rushdie's lawyer, has written to John Blake, the former tabloid columnist who founded John Blake Publishing, saying: "Your conduct serves to increase the risk to him [Rushdie] and to his publisher, without the slightest public interest justification. I invite you to mitigate the damage you have already done by withdrawing the book and removing the falsehoods relating to our client and his friends, the various statements that invade their privacy and statements about security precautions that remain in place."
Rushdie, who claims Evans was a driver who has magnified his own role, said: "Apart from anything else, what he has written makes the police look bad. The idea that the police would treat somebody they are supposed to protect in this way is very disturbing... The idea that I was so unpleasant to them they locked me up is totally made up.
"This is not a free speech issue, this is libel - there is a difference between those two things. I can defend the truth, I will not have my character destroyed and presented to the world as something that it is not. I am not trying to prevent him from publishing his stupid book but if they publish it as it is there will be consequences and there will be a libel action."
In 2005 Evans was convicted at Feltham magistrates court on nine counts of false accounting and later ordered to pay £6,280.85 in fines and to cover prosecution costs at Isleworth crown court. He was also ordered to pay compensation.
The Metropolitan police said: "It is not our intention to comment on Ron Evans' recollection and interpretation of specific events. We regret that he chooses to publish this book... There were a number of passages within the draft which caused [us] concern. Following legal advice we negotiated with the publishers to make some alterations."
Yesterday the publishing house refused to speak to the Guardian about the book. Evans could not be contacted.
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