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Sunday, October 24, 1999 Published at 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK


UK: Scotland

Minister denies destruction of evidence

Beattie Media staff boasted of ministerial contacts

Scottish Finance Minister Jack McConnell has denied allegations that vital evidence to go before the Scottish Parliament's inquiry into the Lobbygate affair has been destroyed.


BBC Scotland's Christine Jardine: "Reports said evidence was destroyed"
Newspaper reports said records of contacts between Mr McConnell and his secretary and the lobbyists at the centre of the controversy would not be available to the parliament's standards committee.

However, Mr McConnell has issued a statement in which he described the allegations as "totally untrue" and said he was the victim of a smear campaign.


[ image: Jack McConnell: Denies allegations]
Jack McConnell: Denies allegations
The committee is due to hear evidence on Monday from Mr McConnell and his secretary Christina Marshall following allegations that lobbyists from Beattie Media were offering improper access to ministers and Mr McConnell in particular.

It was reported that a notebook containing details of a contact between Mr McConnell's secretary and the lobbying arm of the public relations company, and which would have been presented to the committee, had been destroyed.

And there were further allegations that a constituency diary entry containing details of a Beattie-organised event was blotted out.

But in a statement Mr McConnell said he had provided more information to the committee than was asked for, including the specific note relating to the event in question.

The minister said constituency case notes which had not been given to the committee contained confidential information which could put lives in danger if they were to be made public.

Mr McConnell said: "The suggestion that any evidence has been destroyed is totally untrue and the person responsible for this disgusting lie is bringing the whole inquiry into disrepute.

'Specific note'

"I provided more information to the committee than was asked for including the specific note relating to the event in question.

"My constituency case notes contain confidential information which could put lives in danger in the wrong hands. I urge all concerned to stop playing politics with those lives."

Mr McConnell, who once worked for a Beattie Media-related company, has been the main focus for the inquiry.


[ image: Kevin Reid: Access controversy]
Kevin Reid: Access controversy
The standards committee launched its inquiry after two Beattie Media executives, including Kevin Reid, son of the Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid, told an Observer journalist posing as a potential client that they had influence with ministers.

It is alleged that Mr McConnell was invited to attend an awards ceremony on behalf of one of Beattie Media's clients and the entry was placed in the notebook by his secretary, who used to work for the company.

The Sunday Times, however, said the minister would face questioning under oath over an entry in his constituency diary which has been blotted out.

The entry, it said, related to a financial awards dinner which the lobbyists said had been arranged with the minister without having to use official channels.

The newspaper said the omission had been highlighted by Malcolm Duncan, the independent adviser appointed to the Lobbygate inquiry.

The revelations have led to concerns among Labour ministers over leaks from the standards committee.

It is thought the Scottish Executive will call on the committee members to take an oath denying they have been responsible for leaks.



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