10 NOVEMBER 1990, Page 28

LETTERS Reporting on Cowgill

Sir: There is much that might be written about the Booker-Cowgill 'Inquiry' into the repatriation operations: too much, I fear, to attempt to introduce into your correspondence columns.

However, one passage of Booker's cri- ticism (Letters, 3 November) of your re- viewer includes matter I have long wished to have explained. He writes:

It was only after our investigation had been proceeding for a considerable time, and a mass of missing evidence had come to light, that we began to see how fundamentally Nikolai Tolstoy had misrepresented what happened, and had built up his elaborate `conspiracy theory' on misconceived guess- work.

The first Cowgill 'Interim Report', ex- posing me as a malevolent fraud, was published in September 1988. At what point the Cowgill team came to crystallise its views is not recorded, but they must indubitably have done so in comfortable time for Alistair Home to have been enabled to incorporate their lengthy find- ings in the first volume of his official Macmillan biography.

The latter was published in the first week of October 1988. Allowing for normal publishing schedules, and Horne's pre- sumed need to assimilate and verify the complex (and, as will be seen, startlingly novel) case set out by Cowgill, it is scarcely conceivable that the lengthy and detailed Cowgill-Booker v Tolstoy conclusions could have been completed much later than the end of 1987.

On 3 August 1987 (over a year since he had joined Cowgill in his inquiry) Christ- opher Booker sent me a copy of a note in which he set out some speculative reasons for supposing that Macmillan might not have been properly informed of the pre- sence of non-Soviet nationals among the Cossacks during his visit to Austria on 13 May. He went on: In concluding this memorandum, I would like to emphasise that I am only attempting to suggest an alternative reading to the version produced by Nikolai Tolstoy in the one respect of the part played in the story by Harold Macmillan. In almost every other respect I believe that our investigations have simply served to confirm and to amplify the general outlines of the story that he has already established in The Victims of Yalta and The Minister and the Massacres.

It would be fascinating to learn just what was the fresh evidence uncovered within the succeeding three or four months which led Booker and his colleagues to switch their estimate of my work so drastically.

Nikolai Tolstoy

Court Close, Southmoor, Abingdon, Berkshire