How a former York businessman is now key to saving Donald Trump’s presidential campaign

15 Oct 2016 @ 6.31 pm
| News

With weeks left before the United States goes to the polls, Donald Trump is in serious trouble.

With women lining up to accuse the Republican nominee of sexual assault, one man has stepped in to help him. And he is someone very familiar to a lot of people in York.

On Friday (October 14) Anthony Gilberthorpe gave an interview to the New York Post. In it he refuted the claim by a woman called Jessica Leeds that Mr Trump had groped her on a flight to New York in the early 1980s.

Mr Gilberthorpe is the man in the New York Post’s picture

Her allegation, which first surfaced in the New York Times, has been highly damaging to Donald Trump.

In an interview arranged by the Trump campaign, Mr Gilberthorpe told the paper that he was sitting across the first class aisle from the couple on the flight. And rejected her account that Mr Trump had made sexual advances.

“Not only did he not do so (and I was present at all times) but it was she that was the one being flirtatious,” he says.

Tabloid scandal

Piers Merchant. Photograph © Mholland on Wikipedia
Piers Merchant. Photograph © Mholland on Wikipedia
This interview has thrown the spotlight back on Mr Gilberthorpe’s own colourful past, including some headline-making episodes in York.

He opened the Stonegate Antiques Centre in 1996. Three years later this was reportedly recording a turnover of £1 million a year. At that time he opened Cavendish Antiques and Collectors’ Centre on the same street.

But it wasn’t his retailing expertise which brought Mr Gilberthorpe to national attention – but rather his role in one of the biggest political sex scandals of the John Major era.

In 1997 Tory MP Piers Merchant, a friend of Mr Gilberthorpe, was caught having an affair with 18-year-old Anna Cox. The Sunday Mirror splashed the story all over its pages complete with pictures.

These had been recorded via hidden CCTV cameras – in Mr Gilberthorpe’s flat above the antiques centre in Stonegate.

Piers Merchant, who was married with children, told The Observer in November 2003:

Anthony Gilberthorpe had set the whole thing up, ensuring that I was up in York in his flat with Anna, that the room was covered in CCTV and wired for sound.

I’d known him for years, he’d been a friend of the family, but he was paid about £25,000.

Later, he said, the Mirror group “broadcast the footage of me in bed having sex with Anna on their cable TV channel, Live TV”. He quit Parliament over the revelations, and died of cancer in 2009. aged 58.

In October 1997 the Independent reported on the Mirror’s operation to ensnare Merchant: “It was arranged through Anthony Gilberthorpe, and filmed at his York home, the apparatus being set up by a surveillance expert.”

The article went on:

It is understood that Mr Gilberthorpe, who had worked for Mr Merchant in the mid 80s when he was MP for Newcastle Central and subsequently kept in touch, took the story to the Sunday Mirror at the end of last week.

A figure of around £25,000 was negotiated. Mr Gilberthorpe has not been available for comment since.

It was also Mr Gilberthorpe who supplied other details of the trip, such as how Ms Cox, on her way to York, visited the National Council for Cosmetic Surgery in Birmingham for a post-operative check-up on implants which had enlarged her breasts.

More headlines

Stonegate, York, pictured in 1982. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
Stonegate, York, pictured in 1982. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

But that wasn’t the last that we heard of Mr Gilberthorpe. First he was embroiled in a wrangle over his York business.

In December 2002, the then Evening Press reported that police were investigating the Stonegate Antiques Centre, which he had run for more than six years, following complaints from traders who dealt with the shop.

The investigation went no further than preliminary inquiries. But in the meantime one of Mr Gilberthorpe’s creditors David Waggott took over the antiques centre to reclaim an alleged debt owed to him by Mr Gilberthorpe.

A bankruptcy order lodged against Mr Gilberthorpe in June 2003 revealed he had had addresses including Hagthorpe Hall, Brackenholme, Selby; Lady Anne Court, Skeldergate, York; Kingsley House, Farlington, North Yorkshire; and Aldwark, York.

Then in 2014 Mr Gilberthorpe was back in the Sunday Mirror again, this time telling the paper how he had he had supplied Conservative cabinet ministers with underage prostitutes for sex parties during the 1980s.

And now he’s moved from the York papers to the New York press, in order to help out Donald Trump.