19 Oct 2011

Liam Fox hits out at ‘vindictive’ media

Former defence secretary Liam Fox says his treatment by some sections of the media has been characterised by “personal vindictiveness, even hatred”.

In a personal statement to the Commons, following Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell’s report into his links to Adam Werritty, Dr Fox said members of his family and friends had been “hounded and intimidated” by journalists.

He apologised for the mistakes he had made and the fact he had not listened to his officials’ concerns about his relationship with Mr Werritty – and said he accepted Sir Gus’s conclusions that he had breached the ministerial code.

I believe there was in some quarters a personal vindictiveness, even hatred. Former defence secretary Liam Fox

‘Hounded and intimidated’

But he then rounded on the media, saying it was unacceptable that family and friends “should be hounded and intimidated by elements of the media, including in this case elderly relatives and children”.

He added: “Last week’s media frenzy was not unprecedented and it happens, where a necessary free press and politics collide. But I believe there was in some quarters a personal vindictiveness, even hatred, that should worry all of us.”

After Dr Fox’s statement to the Commons, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon announced that he would be launching an investigation into the former defence secretary following a complaint from the Labour MP John Mann. In response Dr Fox said that he would answer fully all questions raised in the complaint made against him as soon as possible.

‘Unanswered questions’

Earlier, at prime minister’s questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband said that despite the inquiry, the full facts were still not known. It was unclear which ministers had met Mr Werritty and answers were also needed about the “network of individuals who funded Mr Werritty” and had links to the Conservative party.

“The revelations over the last week about what has been going on in the most sensitive department at the heart of the prime minister’s government are deeply worrying. The former defence secretary had an unofficial adviser with access to top officials in the military and indeed foreign governments, funded by undeclared private donations solicited by him.”

Revelations are deeply worrying. Labour leader Ed Miliband

Prime Minister David Cameron said a “full and proper” inquiry had already been carried out, adding: “I do think it is worth actually recognising that in this case the secretary of state for defence recognised that he had made a mistake, acknowledged that he broke the ministerial code and he resigned. That is not something that always happened in the last 13 years.”

O’Donnell inquiry

The exchanges follow the publication on Tuesday of a report into Dr Fox’s links to Mr Werritty by Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell.

This concluded that the former defence secretary had ignored his officials’ advice over those links and that by giving Mr Werritty access to his diary he had compromised his own security and that of civil servants travelling with him on overseas visits.

The report also said Dr Fox had broken the ministerial code and that there had been an “inappropriate and unacceptable” blurring of lines between official and personal relationships.

This had led to the mistaken impression that Mr Werritty, who used business cards describing himself as Dr Fox’s adviser, spoke on behalf of the government during trips abroad.

But the report cleared Dr Fox, who resigned on 14 October, of breaching national security or gaining financially from his relationship with Mr Werritty, who was his bets man and former flatmate.

Fox statement

Dr Fox said in a statement on Tuesday that it had been “a mistake to allow the distinctions between government and private roles to become blurred”. He said he took his “share of the responsibility for this”, adding: “More care should have been taken to avoid the impression that anyone other than ministers and officials were speaking on behalf of the government, as this was not the case.”

The Electoral Commission said on Tuesday that it was not planning to take up a complaint that Dr Fox broke the law on political donations.

It said in a statement that “to date we have not seen information in correspondence or in media reports to suggest a possible breach”, adding: “We have written to the complainant and Dr Fox to inform them of that. We are actively monitoring the situation and if evidence emerges that warrants further assessment we will consider it.”

Further investigation

Mr Mann has also asked City of London Police to investigate whether Mr Werritty committed fraud by representing himself as Dr Fox’s adviser. A police spokesman told Channel 4 News that officers from the economic crime directorate were considering whether to launch an inquiry.