In 1991 I worked with a guy called Mark Higson for around 18 months. In the 1980’s Mark was in charge of the Iraqi desk at the foreign office and was in a unique position to see the reality of what went on in the Arms to Iraq scandal in which ministers such as Alan Clarke and William Waldegrave were complicit. Mark resigned on principle at the corruption he felt was taking place. He became the chief witness in the Scott Inquiry into the sale of arms to Iraq. He quickly became almost unemployable and started to drink heavily. He lost his marriage and regular contact with his children in the early 1990’s.
In what was must have been a very strange experience for him he came to work for us selling the training films we had made over the phone and became a team leader very quickly. But he was also drinking and empty vodka bottles were found in the cistern toilets. Eventually a senior manager asked him to leave. We had all known about his background. I remember coming back late from a meeting and he was being interviewed live by Channel 4 news outside our offices while the scandal was unfolding in the public eye.
I kept in touch with Mark for a while afterwards and the last time I saw him we went to a rugby match together – in 1993 I should think. I read an excellent John Sweeney book on the crisis in which Mark was clearly the primary source of information.
Mark went to live in Birmingham, living in fear of being followed by the secret services which he undoubtedly was being for a least a while. I remember him saying ‘there are more than two of us watching this game of rugby’. He ended up living in a bedsit in Birmingham on social security and he couldn’t get a job. He died in 2000 aged 40 having had, it is assumed, a seizure and cracking his head as he fell. A Cambridge high flyer, a successful early career, a happy marriage all gone in a few years.
I say all of this for several reasons.
I knew quite a bit about Mark (and the arms to Iraq realities) but didn’t know what had happened to him after 1994 (we chatted on the phone then). Thanks to Steven Jacobi’s excellent play on radio 4 about Mark recently I was able to know what became of him. Steven Jacobi was his oldest friend and closest friend. I contacted him after the broadcast and he hopes to lengthen the play and take it to the stage.
A key point here – and totally relevant to the continuing carnage in Iraq – is that we made Saddam Hussein the man he became through supporting him in the Iran-Iraq war and keeping him supplied with arms. If he ever had WMD’s, and the evidence suggests that while they had gone by 2003 he had them (or was developing them) prior to this we can all guess where he might have got them from. Decisions made 20-25 years ago are being played out in real events now. Mark didn’t live to see the current fiasco. I wonder what he might have made of it.
The final point is that Mark was a lovely, honourable man working in a ghastly, dishonourable environment. He made an appalling career choice which killed him. A highly intelligent man he could have done many things more in keeping with his personality. Mark’s story tells us the dangers of trying to be something you aren’t or are unsuited to being. A horribly sad end to the life of such a warm, friendly guy.