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Fox offers apology in meetings row

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has apologised to the House of Commons for "blurring" the lines between ministerial work and his personal life after a report found he met a close friend a total of 40 times at the Ministry of Defence and on overseas trips.

David Cameron said the interim report by MoD permanent secretary Ursula Brennan made clear that Dr Fox had made "serious mistakes" in his links with Adam Werritty and that procedures within his department need tightening up.

The Prime Minister ordered the Government's top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, to join Ms Brennan in completing her inquiry.

Labour said it is "beyond doubt" that the Defence Secretary had breached the ministerial code of conduct by attending a meeting in a Dubai hotel with representatives of defence company Cellcrypt arranged by Mr Werritty, the best man at his wedding who styled himself an adviser to Dr Fox.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said Dr Fox had "driven a coach and horses through the rules" and called on the Prime Minister to refer the case to the independent adviser on ministers' interests, Sir Philip Mawer.

But Dr Fox received strong support from the Conservative backbenches as he made his apology to the Commons, while Downing Street said the Defence Secretary "absolutely" retained Mr Cameron's full confidence.

The 22 visits at the MoD and 18 meetings on the margins of trips abroad detailed in the report far exceeded the contacts with Mr Werritty previously confirmed by Dr Fox. Meetings overseas occurred during family holidays and in the margins of international conferences.

Mr Werritty was with the Defence Secretary when he met the president of Sri Lanka on a personal basis in London last year and joined Dr Fox when he visited the country in July.

But the Defence Secretary told MPs: "Mr Werritty was never present at regular departmental meetings, during private meetings we did not discuss either commercial or defence matters, he had no access to classified documents, nor was he briefed on classified matters." He went on: "It was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my loyalties to a friend. I am sorry for this, I have apologised to the Prime Minister, to the public and, at the first opportunity available, to the House."

A source close to the Defence Secretary said Dr Fox had personally received assurances from his friend and former flatmate that he had never benefited financially from their association.


From Belfast Telegraph