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Sunday, July 25, 1999 Published at 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK

UK Politics

Ashcroft hits back at Times

Peter Bradley has been accused of "colluding" with The Times

The Times has been accused of omitting a key paragraph from a critical letter it published about Conservative Party treasurer Michael Ashcroft from the UK's former High Commissioner to Belize.

Michael Ashcroft: "I have never met Rupert Murdoch and I do not presume that this is personal"
Mr Ashcroft is suing the paper, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International, for libel over articles it published about his business dealings.

The affair is an extremely complex one, with claim and counter claim flying back and forth between Mr Ashcroft, Labour MP Peter Bradley, The Times and various other rival papers.

The Times printed a detailed and highly damaging letter from the UK's former High Commissioner to Belize, David Mackilligin, 10 days ago.

[ image: Michael Ashcroft is suing on The Times]
Michael Ashcroft is suing on The Times
Mr Mackilligin was quoted as calling for an internal Tory Party inquiry into Mr Ashcroft's role as treasurer.

But The Mail on Sunday says: "Only after the letter was published did Mackilligin discover that the paper had omitted his second paragraph in which he made it clear Ashcroft had acted correctly and was entitled to Foreign Office protection."

Mr Ashcroft, speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, told former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil: "It appalls me that the Times should have edited Mr Mackilligin's letter, especially without his knowledge or consent, change its meaning and then public the twisted version all over its front page."

He said: "I am happy that the Mail of Sunday has confirmed that what I have been saying all along is the truth on other issues.

"But I'm obviously disgusted that The Times used the original material without any obvious verification and used parliamentary privilege to make allegations which just can't be substantiated, because they aren't true."

[ image: Michael Ashcroft holds dual British and Belize nationality]
Michael Ashcroft holds dual British and Belize nationality
Mr Ashcroft said there was "collusion" between The Times and Mr Bradley, who used parliamentary privilege to publicise the allegations.

The Florida-based billionaire, who has considerable business interests in the Caribbean, said he had never met Mr Murdoch and did not believe he was conducting a personal vendetta.

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