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Liam Fox's aides hound his best man

Liam Fox's aides last night turned on his best man Adam Werritty, describing him as a “Walter Mitty figure” who took advantage of the minister's friendship.

In a clear bid to distance the Defence Secretary from Mr Werritty to save his career, “friends” of Mr Fox said it was “clear that Mr Werritty was masquerading as something he was not”.

Mr Fox said last night that he was the victim of a “witch-hunt”.

But at the same time military commanders and senior civil servants in his department warned that it was becoming untenable for Mr Fox to continue with his job. They also expressed grave concern that the Defence Secretary appeared to have used Mr Werritty as an adviser in formulating national policy.

One of the current highest ranking officers in the armed forces said: “This cannot go on for much longer. We know there are other things which will come out. He is not dealing properly with his in-tray with all that's going on.”

The aggressive briefings by Mr Fox's advisers are particularly damaging as they echo the briefings given by Downing Street under Tony Blair about David Kelly after he committed suicide. Both made the same reference to “Walter Mitty” — a fictional character who lived in a fantasy world.

They briefed journalists: “It is clear Werritty was masquerading as something he was not. He was hanging around and popping up in places trying to be part of a group. This guy is clearly a Walter Mitty figure.”

A senior Whitehall official responded: “He is prepared to take advice from a Walter Mitty figure rather than us. There are 40,000 jobs going in defence and we have this circus going on.”

Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, is due to report on his findings into the pair's relationship “within days” — and Whitehall sources said his inquiry would be much more wide-ranging than had been initially anticipated.

Downing Street has also decided the report must be published in some form, making it more difficult to save Mr Fox should Sir Gus imply that he has breached the ministerial code.

Major General Julian Thompson, a former commander the Royal Marines, said: “The worry is that even if Mr Fox is not sacked he will be left damaged and not in a position to carry out the robust defence of the forces needed at these times with the problems caused by the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review).

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