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