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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 05:15 GMT
Jowell allies deny marriage claim
Tessa Jowell
Ms Jowell was cleared of breaching the ministers' code of conduct
Allies of Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell have dismissed critics' suggestions she is sacrificing her marriage to save her political career.

Ms Jowell and husband David Mills have announced a "period of separation", saying controversy over their finances has put them under "dreadful strain".

Friends want a line drawn under it as far as she is concerned, but Tories say she still has questions to answer.

Lawyer Mr Mills has denied claims he took a bribe from Italy's leader.

Critics 'spinning'

Earlier in the week, Ms Jowell, 58, was cleared of breaching the ministers' code of conduct - because a report said her husband had not told her about a 344,000 gift he had received.

Ms Jowell's parliamentary private secretary, Huw Irranca-Davies, told Radio 4's PM it was wrong for some critics to suggest she had separated from her husband to save her political skin.

They hope that over time their relationship can be restored
David Kirk, solicitor

"To even imagine that any individual would take a decision like this purely on cynical grounds of career advancement - well, frankly, it's a reflection on those who are thinking it and are spinning that line," he said.

Labour Peer Baroness Jay, a close friend of Ms Jowell and her husband, told BBC Radio Five Live the couple had a "very long-standing relationship with a very considerable commitment to each other and to their family" and the split may not be permanent.

"I think they've both said they hope that in the longer run something may be able to be worked out between them, and it won't be a permanent separation - but of course you know that's for the future," she said.

Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox said the minister's marriage difficulties were a private matter but that questions about the family's finances still had to be answered.

He said there were a "number of questions" being raised by the newspapers "about exactly who knew what [and] when about sums of money and I think that's for her to answer".

Italian probe

Italian prosecutors have been examining claims the 344,000 was paid to Mr Mills, an international lawyer, in return for helpful testimony in a corruption probe concerning Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 1997.

Both Mr Mills, 61, and Ms Jowell have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Mills and Mr Berlusconi could now face a corruption trial in Italy.

Mr Mills says the money did not come from the Italian prime minister, but from another client.

Tony Blair has not commented on Ms Jowell's marriage separation, which was announced on Saturday, although a Downing Street spokesman told the BBC the situation "in no way" affected her position in the Cabinet.

David Mills
Mr Mills, an international lawyer, has denied any wrongdoing

"The prime minister continues to have full confidence in Tessa Jowell," he said.

On Thursday, the prime minister cleared Ms Jowell of breaching the ministers' code of conduct by not declaring the 344,000 gift.

This came after a report by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell said if she had known about it, she would have declared it.

Ms Jowell was drawn into the affair after it emerged that she had co-signed a 408,000 loan taken out against the value of the couple's house, which was paid off just weeks later, apparently using the Italian money.

Ms Jowell is due to appear before MPs in the Commons on Monday for her regular question-and-answer session about the work of her department.

See how UK newspapers have reported the couple's split


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