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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 11:58 GMT
What are the unanswered questions?
The government is attempting to draw a line under the Cherie Blair affair, but critics complain these questions remain unanswered.

Did Cherie Blair offer Peter Foster legal advice on his deportation case?

Downing Street said on Tuesday that Mrs Blair did not speak to Mr Foster or offer him legal advice.

But allegations published in The Scotsman newspaper contradict this account.

Quoting "legal sources", the newspaper says Mrs Blair not only spoke to Mr Foster, but advised his legal team on tactics to use in the case.

Why did Mrs Blair check the public courts lists for the name of the judge handling Peter Foster case?

Mrs Blair said in her statement on Wednesday that she checked the public court lists for the name of the judge handling the Peter Foster case.

Mrs Blair said there was an allegation that she might have been trying to influence a judge, and that this had prompted her to speak out.

Mrs Blair said the allegation - something which would be deeply damaging to her legal career - was evidence of how "frenzied" and inaccurate the accusations against her had become.

But she offered no explanation as to why she did want to know the judge's name.

The Scotsman says Mrs Blair told Ms Caplin that the judge handling the case, Mr Justice Cook, was cautious and conservative, and therefore unlikely to overturn the deportation, and that this information was passed on to Mr Foster's lawyers.

But this was flatly denied by Downing Street, which said Mrs Blair did not know the judge in question.

How did Number 10 come to mislead the media?

Mrs Blair said she should not have allowed a situation to have developed where Downing Street told journalists Peter Foster had played no part in negotiations for her flat deal.

She insisted, however, that she did not mean this to happen, but exactly how it did is not clear.

A central part of Conservative questioning is what the press officers knew and when.

The fresh allegations in The Scotsman, if true, suggest journalists were again misled by Downing Street about the extent of Mrs Blair's involvement in Mr Foster's deportation case.

But the claims have been branded "inaccuracies presented as fact" by Downing Street, which is continuing to stick by its version of events.

Why was the date on which Peter Foster was due to be deported brought forward?

The Tories have questioned whether it was a coincidence that this happened - or was the date changed after Mr Foster's links with Mrs Blair were revealed?

Mrs Blair herself said neither she nor people in Downing Street on her behalf phoned the Home Office about the case.

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes said the case had been handled in an "entirely impartial and proper way".

The Home Office has set out the chronology for the case, saying the chief immigration officer at Luton airport argued that as Mr Foster had been refused judicial review, there was no need to wait until 18 December to deport him - it could be done on 6 December.

But the Tories say they still want an independent inquiry into the matter.

When did Cherie Blair know that Peter Foster had been jailed as a fraudster?

Mrs Blair said she did not know the full details of Mr Foster's past until police warned her that a newspaper was trying to set her up in a meeting with him.

But how much she knew of his past troubles when she accepted his offers of help in the flat purchase is unclear.

Mrs Blair said Carole Caplin had told her he had said he had been in trouble for trading standards offences, but she did not know he had been jailed in more than one country, including the UK.

Did Mr Foster pay Mrs Blair's 4,000 accountant's bill out of his own pocket?

Downing Street denied this on Wednesday 11 December, saying any bills relating to the flat purchases would be paid for by Mrs Blair.

Was the ministerial code broken by buying the flats through the Blairs' blind trust?

Blind trusts mean experts look after ministers' investments without them knowing the details.

The Conservatives think the Ministerial Code of Conduct was broken because if Mrs Blair used the trust to buy the flats, it cannot have been "blind".

The Blairs' trust was set up when they sold their Islington home and moved into Downing Street.

Mrs Blair said the family had no other funds with which to buy property and the trust was the best way to ensure the Blair name did not appear on the Land Register for "security reasons".

She said the Blairs did not know the details of the stocks and shares initially bought by the trust - and Number 10 says flat purchases are within the rules.

When did Tony Blair check with the cabinet secretary the flats deal met the blind trust rules?

No answers have been forthcoming on this point - save that the country's most senior civil servant agreed with the prime minister's interpretation.

But the Tories and Liberal Democrats say the row shows the ministerial code ought to be overseen by an independent panel, not the prime minister himself.

The BBC's Vicki Young
"Not everyone is persuaded by her explanations"
The BBC's Jo Coburn
"There are still unanswered questions"
Cherie speech: Were you convinced?



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10 Dec 02 | Politics

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