British minister's link to friend was security risk: inquiry

18th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's former defence minister Liam Fox caused a security risk by disclosing his diary of foreign trips to his close friend, an official report criticising his actions said Tuesday.

The report by civil service chief Gus O'Donnell also recommended tightening the rules for ministers following the case of Fox and Adam Werritty, who posed as the minister's official advisor in meetings with overseas officials.

Fox, 50, who played a key role in Britain's military campaigns in Libya and Afghanistan, resigned on Friday after it emerged that 34-year-old Werritty's trips were funded by financial backers linked to Israel.

"The Ministerial Code sets out very clearly the standards of behaviour required from ministers. Dr Fox did not live up to these standards which he has since acknowledged," O'Donnell said in his report.

It said there was also a "inappropriate blurring of lines between official and personal relationships."

The report was commissioned last week by Prime Minister David Cameron as pressure grew on Fox for his links with Werritty, who was the best man at the minister's wedding.

It criticised Fox for sharing with Werritty the advance details of his trips abroad. The pair went on 18 foreign trips together after Fox took office in May 2010.

"The disclosure outside MOD (Ministry of Defence) of diary details about future visits overseas posed a degree of security risk not only to Dr Fox, but also to the accompanying official party," it said.

The report also revealed that Werritty attended a meeting between the minister and Matthew Gould, the incoming British ambassador to Israel, in September 2010, where they discussed "international defence and security matters".

"As a private citizen, however, with no official locus, it was not appropriate for Mr Werritty to have attended this meeting," it said.

Meanwhile Werritty's use of business cards falsely portraying himself as an advisor to Fox "risked creating the impression that Mr Werritty spoke on behalf of the UK Government or was officially associated with Dr Fox."

Civil servants warned Fox of the risks of his association with Werritty but he ignored them, O'Donnell added.

Fox said in a statement on Tuesday that he welcomed the fact that the report cleared him of having made any financial gain or having breached national security.

But he accepted that it was a "mistake" to blur distinctions between government and private roles.

Cameron's spokesman said he accepted O'Donnell's recommendations.

Conservative party lawmaker Fox stepped down amid reports that financial backers linked to Israel and a private security firm had funded Werritty's first-class travel and hotel stays during his time with the minister.

Fox admitted that Werritty had also visited him 22 times at the Ministry of Defence in London, in addition to the foreign trips.

The Times newspaper reported meanwhile that Israeli officials shared sensitive intelligence with Werritty because they believed he was a government adviser.

There was no immediate reaction from Israeli authorities.

© 2011 AFP

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