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No. 10 email in honours scandal

London, March 4: A confidential Downing Street email was at the centre of the dramatic intervention by the British attorney-general into the cash-for-honours investigation, it can be revealed.

Details of the email relating to one of Tony Blair’s closest aides and a senior Labour Party fund-raiser had been obtained by the BBC which was preparing to read excerpts on air as evidence of a Downing Street “cover-up”.

The email is understood to relate to Ruth Turner, the head of government relations, and Lord Levy, Labour’s chief fund-raiser, who have both been arrested over the alleged awarding of honours in return for big loans to the party.

Scotland Yard sought the 11th-hour assistance of Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, amid fears that its year-long investigation was about to be undermined by the TV broadcast. A judge granted Goldsmith an injunction to prevent the corporation from revealing its evidence. Informed sources say that Scotland Yard resorted to legal action because the investigation was entering its most crucial phase.

Only a few people are left to be questioned in the coming days before detectives submit their final report — which is expected to push for several criminal charges — to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Detectives were believed to have become alarmed that disclosures from the BBC could have alerted a suspect to a key line of questioning. When the British prime minister was questioned for a second time in January, a news black-out was put on the interview for similar reasons.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed in January that the police had to hack into Downing Street computers after they became convinced that key aides were withholding evidence. Later they launched an investigation into allegations that Labour officials had sought to pervert the course of justice.

BBC chiefs were shocked at the Draconian nature of the injunction won by Lord Goldsmith on Friday night. The 10 ’Clock News was at first told that it could not even mention the fact that the injunction had been served, and was only able to report the gag after hours of legal argument. Staff at the BBC’s political unit in Millbank have been ordered not to discuss the legal action.

Police feared the BBC story would prejudice any future trial if charges are brought but, even more crucially, could impede the questioning of suspects and witnesses.

Angus MacNeil, the Scottish National Party MP whose complaint triggered the police investigation, said: “The gravity of this investigation is clear.... Labour is facing an unprecedented political crisis. It would appear that the police may have significant information that they don’t want to be made public at this stage.”

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