06/03/2007

Newspaper publishes insight into cash-for-honours investigation

A story detailing developments in the cash-for-honours inquiry has been published in 'The Guardian' newspaper this morning.

The story, which claims that police are investigating whether Labour's chief fundraiser, Lord Levy, attempted to convince one of the Prime Minister's senior aides to 'shape' evidence provided to the police, appears in Tuesday's edition of 'The Guardian'

A judge refused to grant an injunction stopping the publication of the story last night, because printing of the paper had already begun.

The story claimed that police were investigating whether one of Tony Blair's senior aides, Ruth Turner, had been asked by Lord Levy to "modify information that might have been of interest to the inquiry".

'The Guardian' said that this piece of information has prompted the focus of the investigation to shift from the question of whether peerages were offered in exchange for loans to whether there was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Both Lord Levy and Ms Turner have been arrested on suspicion of trying to pervert the course of justice. Both have been released on bail and deny any wrongdoing.

Following the publication of 'The Guardian's' story, an injunction barring the BBC from reporting a story connected to the investigation was lifted.

The BBC story related to an alleged document in which Ms Turner is said to have expressed concern over the version of events over cash-for-honours presented by Lord Levy.

The BBC said that they had not seen the alleged document, but said that it was supported by more than one source.

A statement released by Neil O'May from Lord Levy's solicitors Bindman & Partners said: "Lord Levy categorically denies any wrong-doing whatsoever, as he has throughout this lengthy police investigation.

"There has been a regular strem of leaks to the media during this year-long investigation, all of which have presented a prejudiced and distorted view.

"Cumulatively, these leaks and reports have created a climate which does not allow for any fair assessment of the investigation.

"Any fair-minded person must realise the intolerable burden that is placed on Lord Levy and his family by this media-style trial when Lord Levy is unable to defend himself on these matters whilst the police investigation continues."

The cash-for-honours investigation was sparked last year by complaints from Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil and Plaid Cymru parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd, who claimed that peerages were being awarded to those who made large donations or loans to the Labour party. It then emerged that a number of undisclosed loans had been made to the party before the 2005 general election and that some of those responsible had later been nominated for peerages.

The investigation was later widened to cover the other main political parties.

A number of people have been questioned in the course of the investigation, including Mr Blair and former Conservative leader Michael Howard.

However, no-one has been charged and all those involved deny any wrongdoing.

(KMcA/SP)

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