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Fresh uproar over Cherie call

London, Dec. 10: Downing Street faced fresh accusations last night that it had not told the full truth about Cherie Blair’s relationship with the fraudster Peter Foster after admitting that she called his solicitors to discuss his battle against deportation.

The disclosure of her contact with Foster’s lawyers two weeks ago appeared to contradict an earlier denial by No 10 that she had intervened in the immigration proceedings after Foster had helped her negotiate a discount on the purchase of two flats in Bristol.

Last week Cherie Blair implied that she had not been aware of the “details” of his past as a convicted conman — and would have been more “circumspect” had she known.

While Cherie Blair laughed and joked with children from Barnardo’s as she switched on Christmas tree lights outside No 10 yesterday, officials faced embarrassing questions about her involvement in Foster’s fight against deportation.

Downing Street’s attempts to draw a line under the affair, which has paralysed Blair’s office for a week, were thrown into confusion by a statement from Foster’s lawyers. It disclosed that Cherie Blair telephoned them on November 22 — two weeks after she had suggested that her contacts with him were over but while she was still exchanging emails with him over the purchase of the flats.

In a statement faxed to newspapers, Janes Solicitors said that Cherie Blair had taken part in a conference call with Carole Caplin, her fashion and fitness adviser and Foster's girlfriend.

The solicitors said: “The avowed and plain purpose of the telephone call was to reassure Carole that the immigration proceedings against Peter Foster were being conducted on a regular and normal basis.

“We wish to emphasise that Cherie Booth, QC, did not intrude into our conduct of the proceedings and, for the avoidance of doubt, had no say whatsoever in our choice of representation of counsel.

"In our opinion she was simply seeking to provide support and

assurance to her friend Carole and acted with complete propriety."

The firm refused to answer questions about the extent of Mrs

Blair's participation in the conference call. However, a call from

Mrs Blair, a leading human rights lawyer as well as the Prime

Minister's wife, would be a significant event in such a case.

No 10 confirmed that Mrs Blair had made "one short call" to

Foster's solicitors, but denied that she had interfered in the

immigration proceedings. It said: "Mrs Blair stands emphatically

by her statement that, had she known the details of Peter Foster's

past, she would have been more circumspect."

Officials said that she had acted as Miss Caplin's friend to try

to "reassure" her that "the solicitors were handling the case in

the normal way".

In a statement last week, Mrs Blair said that newspaper

allegations made against her were "false". They included a claim

that she intervened in Foster's deportation case.

When journalists put the allegations to Mr Blair's official

spokesman, they were again denied. Downing Street's record of the

briefing on the No 10 website states: "Had Mrs Blair been

assisting Mr Foster's legal battle against deportation' No."

Earlier, Mr Blair was drawn directly into the controversy over his

wife's purchase of the flats when No 10 disclosed that he had

cleared himself of any impropriety under the ministerial code of

conduct.

The purchase had been financed with money from a "blind trust" set

up by the Blairs to prevent conflicts of interest over their

financial affairs while he was Prime Minister.

Officials said Mr Blair had checked with Sir Andrew Turnbull, the

Cabinet Secretary, who had agreed that the code had not been

breached.

But Mr Blair's official spokesman conceded that a potential

conflict of interest might have arisen if the Blairs' property

portfolio had been larger.

He denied that the controversy over the flats and Foster's

involvement in the deal had caused a rift between the Blairs and

Alastair Campbell, the Government's director of communications, or

his partner, Fiona Millar, who works for Mrs Blair.

But No 10 did not deny reports that the Prime Minister had vetoed

his wife's plan to make a public show of her support for Miss

Caplin by inviting her to a charity carol concert.

The Tories stepped up their demands for a full statement by Mr

Blair on his wife's involvement with Foster.

Michael Ancram, their foreign affairs spokesman, said it was time

for a "complete, open and frank declaration".

In a letter to Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, last

night, Mr Blair maintained that Foster's deportation case had been

"handled entirely properly".

"The Home Office has already made clear that no political

interference has taken place in this case," he said.

9 December 2002: Blair faces demands for statement on conman

8 December 2002: Blairs ignored warnings by Campbell over

Cherie's 'guru'

7 December 2002: Cherie's mortgage man faces trial for cash

plot

6 December 2002: Cherie says sorry over conman 'lie'

3 December 2002: 'Blair flats' conman faces new allegations

2 December 2002: Conman's girlfriend is Cherie Blair's guest at

Chequers

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Telegraph Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium

without licence. For the full copyright statement see Copyright

Jaideep Chatterjee

Assistant News Editor

The Telegraph

260-0229, 260-0216

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