Naomi Campbell: The not-so-model witness late for a war crimes trial
Naomi Campbell's testimony could prove crucial in prosecuting one of the world's most fearsome dictators and securing justice for thousands of victims of a brutal civil war. For Naomi, though, it was all a terrible inconvenience.
She was typically, fashionably late and when she did arrive the supermodel, more accustomed to the catwalks of Milan, New York and London, made it clear she would rather be anywhere else than a courtroom in The Hague.
But the information she provided yesterday could help establish the all-important link between former Liberian president Charles Taylor and the blood diamonds he is alleged to have traded in.
Since 2007, when the trial opened, the prosecution has tried desperately to prove that Mr Taylor, in exchange for diamonds, facilitated atrocities in Sierra Leone.
But there has been little evidence from any of the 91 witnesses that puts Mr Taylor in possession of blood diamonds.
Yesterday the 92nd witness — a world famous supermodel from Streatham in south London — provided testimony which may have done just that. Dressed in a figure-hugging cream dress and with her hair in a bun, Ms Campbell (40) told, in her soft London-meets-Manhattan accent, the story of how, after meeting Mr Taylor at a 1997 party at Nelson Mandela's presidential residence in South Africa, she was awoken by a knock at her bedroom door in the middle of the night.
Answering the door, half-asleep and wearing a nightdress and a cashmere shawl, Ms Campbell was met by two men whom she believed to be part of Mr Taylor's entourage and given a pouch containing unfinished diamonds.
Without deigning to ask the identity of the men, she simply closed the door and returned to bed because she was “exhausted”.
It was a story which provoked gasps of amazement from the 84 media members and diplomats in the glass-fronted public gallery above the courtroom — not least because Ms Campbell has previously publicly denied receiving diamonds on that evening.
“It is not abnormal for me to get gifts,” she told the court. “I get gifts all the time: sometimes in the middle of the night without knowing who they are from.”
While she said she could not be sure that the men were working for Mr Taylor, she admitted that she “assumed they were”.
She made a similar assumption as to the identity of the stones. After discussion with her former agent, Carole White, and the actress Mia Farrow over breakfast the next morning she accepted they were likely to be diamonds. But originally she said she thought they were “dirty-looking pebbles”.
The recollection could have telling repercussions for Mr Taylor. Throughout the morning he carefully followed proceedings, changing his spectacles at times, and jotting down notes.
Ms Campbell said she gave the diamonds the next day to a man called Jeremy Ratcliffe, the head of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF), and asked him to “do something good with them”.
But the court was shown a letter which showed that the NMCF had no record of receiving a diamond gift, and that it would be illegal to do so.
But that was clearly not troubling Ms Campbell, who explained: “Once I had given them over it was out of my hands and I did not really care any more.”
As she left Ms Campbell was given a parting shot which contained a sardonic nod to her barely-concealed reluctance to appear.
“We want to thank you for your testimony,” Mrs Justice Sebutinde said. “And for taking time out of your busy schedule.”