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EDITIONS
Monday, 16 December, 2002, 17:24 GMT
Foster denies targeting Blairs
Peter Foster
Foster said he turned down meetings with the Blairs
Conman Peter Foster has denied targeting the Blairs but says he did receive "professional" advice from Cherie Blair about his deportation case.

Complaining he had been a victim of the "most extraordinary character assassination", Mr Foster said he had turned down many invitations to meet the Blairs because of the embarrassment his past could cause.

I apologise to Tony and Cherie for the mess a little help from your friends can get you in to

Peter Foster
He derided any suggestion he had started his relationship with Mrs Blair's friend, Carole Caplin, to get close to the Blairs, adding: "I know that I am a flawed man but I do not believe I am a bad man".

He continued: "I remain appreciative of the later, innocent advice given to me, by Cherie. At no time did she seek to interfere with the legal processes, nor did I ask her to.

"Cherie simply passed on to me a professional view of where I stood on the case.

"The notion I was attempting some elaborate sting on the Blairs is laughable."

Mr Foster said he had spoken to the prime minister's wife by phone three times, as well as corresponding by e-mail.

Mrs Blair has not mentioned she had any telephone conversations with Mr Foster when he was helping her to buy two Bristol flats.

Carole Caplin
Foster said he was "smitten" with Carole Caplin
But she has emphatically denied suggestions she spoke twice to Mr Foster about his case.

Mrs Blair said she only spoke to Mr Foster's solicitor to reassure Ms Caplin that his case was being properly handled.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy, Downing Street said: "Our words stand".

Tony Blair's official spokesman said he was "all briefed out" over the affair.

Instead, the government was focusing on important issues like the review of firefighter's pay, Iraq and Middle East peace, he said.

Earlier, the spokesman said the prime minister would "leave a convicted conman to focus on his own business".

In what he said would be his final statement on the affair which has dominated the headlines for two weeks, Mr Foster spoke of his love for Ms Caplin.
Cherie Blair with Syria's first lady Asma
Cherie entertained Syria's first lady as the statement was made

And he insisted he did not "seek anything in return" for helping Mrs Blair her flats.

He had secured a 69,000 discount on the deal, but without using the Blair name, he said.

He added: "I apologise to Tony and Cherie for the mess a little help from your friends can get you in to. I know that intentions on both sides were always honourable."

Mr Foster, who said he was writing the final chapters of his autobiography, said he had met Mrs Blair only once "by chance".

TALKING POINT
Foster's statement: Is this the end of Cherie-gate?
I find the whole saga distressing, unbelievable and an insult to the nation's intelligence

A, UK

He railed against newspaper reports about his past and said he had not been able to challenge such "lies".

"Where did they come from? Could it be I had to be discredited by the establishment," he said.

The Australian earlier denied press reports he was planning to head to Queensland before Christmas and give up his legal bid to stay in Britain.

Newspaper challenged

In alleged transcripts of phone conversations published in The Sun newspaper, Mr Foster said he had plenty of "ammunition" against the Blairs, whom he believed were trying to portray him as an unreformed crook.

Now Mr Foster is challenging the newspaper to publish the "unedited" version of what he said were "illegally recorded" conversations.

The story that Mr Foster helped Mrs Blair buy the flats for her son Euan's first term at university, appeared just over two weeks ago in the Mail on Sunday.

The Downing Street press office initially denied that Mr Foster had been involved and has since been embroiled in a row with the media involving claim and counter-claim.

'Not for sale'

At the height of the controversy Mrs Blair made an emotional statement confirming his involvement and admitting she had made mistakes.

Mr Foster's statement comes after the News of the World said on Sunday that it had made an offer for his story, though it declined to put a figure on it.

Earlier, Mr Foster said his version of events was "not for sale at any price".

He denied that he was set to leave the UK, saying he intended to see his appeal against deportation through to its conclusion.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"There has never been one central allegation about this story"
Peter Foster
"Intentions on both sides were always honourable"
Foster's former business associate, Paul Walsh
"I did not know Peter Foster's full background when I met him in June"

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