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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 18:29 GMT
Cherie Blair to make statement
Tony and Cherie Blair in November
The Blairs are coming under increasing pressure
Cherie Blair is set to make a brief statement on the Carole Caplin affair when she attends an event at a central London restaurant on Tuesday evening.

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said he and other journalists had spent the day suggesting that the best thing Mrs Blair could do would be to explain her connection with Ms Caplin's convicted fraudster boyfriend Peter Foster.

Earlier the government accused some reporters of a "deliberate campaign of character assassination".

That attack - clearly aimed at the Mail group of newspapers although no names were mentioned - came as Downing Street also appealed for the media generally to get a "sense of perspective" over Mrs Blair's dealings with Peter Foster.

Explanation

Mr Marr said: "Throughout the day journalists have been suggesting that the best thing Number 10 can do is to allow Cherie Blair to explain her connection with this man Peter Foster.

"Only she can really tell us what she knew and when.

"It could just be a very simple terse statement."

The Conservatives are demanding an inquiry into whether the Home Office was urged to speed up Peter Foster's deportation case once his links to Mrs Blair attracted media attention last week.

In an effort to end the story which has dogged the government for days, the Home Office is publishing a chronology of how it handled the Foster case which rejects suggestions that Downing Street was involved in its timing.

On Tuesday, the prime minister's official spokesman was asked if Mrs Blair was Mr Foster's latest victim.

The spokesman replied: "You are asking me to make a judgement about Peter Foster, which I am not in a position to judge, but he is a convicted conman."

Deportation dates

Number 10 says there were no contacts between officials from Downing Street and the Home Office about the Foster deportation case.

The Home Office says there was only the usual "chit-chat" between the two departments' press offices after the story emerged.

On Monday, Mr Foster's solicitors said he was due to be deported on 18 December but the date was then brought forward to last Friday.

Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
Oliver Letwin is suspicious about the deportation timings
Those arrangements were cancelled pending an appeal and the Home Office say dates in such cases often change.

Earlier, shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said: "It may be completely innocent but I have to say it is very coincidental.

"It raises the question: did someone in Number 10 quietly suggest to somebody in the Home Office ... it would be rather nifty if you speeded up this deportation."

'Frenzy'

Mr Letwin said he was sure no ministers had been involved but said officials sometimes did the wrong thing when Number 10 went into "panic mode".

Home Office Minister Lord Falconer, however, insisted there was "absolutely no material to justify such an inquiry".

It emerged on Monday that Mrs Blair had telephoned Mr Foster's solicitors about his deportation case.

Peter Foster
Mrs Blair took part in a conference call about Foster's case

Prime Minister Tony Blair responded to questions about the telephone call by saying it had been handled "entirely properly", with "no political interference".

He told the Financial Times: "This is just part of what comes with the territory nowadays. This type of media frenzy will come and it will go."

And on Tuesday, the prime minister's spokesman said the media was "flinging so many allegations at Mrs Blair in the hope that people lose sight of the fact that none of them turn out to be true, and mud sticks".

He said allegations made against Mrs Blair had proved unfounded The spokesman added, and nothing improper or illegal had been done.

But in the process, he said, "we have had to intrude into the private life of the Blairs far more than is either legitimate or indeed desirable".

Mrs Blair had essentially been accused of thinking the best of somebody, helping a friend to understand the legal process and buying a flat, he said.

Last Thursday, Downing Street said Mrs Blair - a friend of Mr Foster's girlfriend Carole Caplin - did not "assist" the Australian in his legal battle against deportation from the UK.

But the telephone call from Mrs Blair to Mr Foster's solicitors was confirmed on Monday.

Boasts

Mr Foster's solicitors said Mrs Blair took part in a conference call on 22 November, but this was only "to reassure" Ms Caplin about the progress of immigration proceedings.

The solicitor's statement stressed Mrs Blair "did not intrude into our conduct of the proceedings".

Downing Street says that even on the day of the call Mrs Blair did not know the details of Mr Foster's past - nor did she pursue it then.

The row first blew up last week when it was reported that Mr Foster had boasted that Mrs Blair had asked him to negotiate the purchase of two luxury flats in Bristol.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Guto Harri
"Downing Street still insists Mrs Blair has done nothing wrong"
Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
"There is what seems to be a rather large and surprising coincidence"
 VOTE RESULTS
Cherie speech: Were you convinced?

Yes
 38.56% 

No
 61.44% 

30800 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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09 Dec 02 | Politics
06 Dec 02 | Politics
09 Dec 02 | Politics
10 Dec 02 | Politics
10 Dec 02 | Politics

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