Page last updated at 19:43 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Court hears minister bribe claim

Michael Howard
The then Home Secretary Michael Howard signed the royal pardon

Former Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard was rumoured to have been bribed "about" 400,000 to release two drug smugglers from jail, a court has heard.

The rumour emerged from the Liverpool underworld after John Haase was given a royal pardon from his 18-year term in 1996, Southwark Crown Court heard.

It resurfaced in a prison chat between Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle and Haase in 2004, recorded by a journalist.

Haase, 59, and his nephew Paul Bennett, 44, deny conspiracy to pervert justice.

In 1995 Haase was sentenced to 18 years in prison but was released less than a year later when Michael Howard signed a Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

The drug smuggler had provided "leads" about guns which had in fact been planted at the request of him and Mr Bennett, the court has heard.

Part of the motivation was that it was a Tory Home Secretary was accepting a bribe?
Trevor Burke, QC

Liverpool Walton MP Mr Kilfoyle met Haase after he was jailed again, this time for 13 years for firearms offences, for a conversation taped by Sunday Mirror journalist Graham Johnson.

Cross-examining the reporter, Trevor Burke, QC for Haase, said: "The word on the streets or coming from the underworld in the months and years since Haase's release in July, 1996, was that he had planted his own guns and had the authorities over and had bribed high level officials to secure his release?"

"But the bribery allegation, the word on the street, was much less," the witness replied.

Mr Burke said: "Did the bribery include a figure of 400,000?"

"No. Some of the figures came close to 400,000," he replied.

Peter Kilfoyle
Peter Kilfoyle obtained the confession in 2004

Mr Burke added: "There was gossip of about 400,000, Michael Howard."

"Yes," the witness replied.

Mr Burke then asked: "So your contacts were saying he had had the authorities over, he had planted his own guns and he has bribed the Home Secretary to get out and it worked?"

Mr Johnson replied: "That is a version of the story. However, if you go back to 1996 there was a story in the Sunday Mirror - it was before I worked there - it exposed a link between John Haase and the Home Secretary. So it was more than gossip."

Later during the hearing, Mr Burke asked the journalist if Mr Kilfoyle knew about the bribery suggestion.

Mr Johnson agreed, but said one of Mr Kilfoyle's motivations was that Haase and Bennett had sold heroin in his constituency.

The barrister added: "Part of the motivation was that it was a Tory Home Secretary was accepting a bribe?"

"Yes. But he didn't say he was going to use this to bring down Michael Howard."

Haase and Bennett, both of no fixed abode, Haase's wife Deborah, of Teynham Avenue, Knowsley Village, and and Sharon Knowles, of Wadeson Road, Walton, all deny conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Deborah Haase also denies one charge of possessing illegal firearms and one charge of possessing illegal ammunition.

The trial was adjourned until Monday

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