British defence chief regrets row over friend

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British Defence Secetary Liam Fox on Sunday apologised for a row over his friend's reported influence over government policy, but vowed to fight his case in parliament on Monday.

Fox accepted it was "a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalties to a friend", in a statement issued Sunday.

But the minister said he would answer "all questions" about friend Adam Werritty's involvement in government business, including Afghanistan and Libya, during the scheduled House of Commons defence questions on Monday.

Fox insisted that "at no stage" did he provide classified information or briefings to Werritty, or assist businessman Werritty in his commercial endeavours.

The under fire minister also revealed he had apologised to Prime Minister David Cameron for meeting a commercial supplier without the presence of an official, and was working to legislate against such meetings in the future.

Fox stopped short of apologising for the nature of his relationship with Werritty, and regretted only that he "may have given the impression of wrongdoing" and "given third parties the misleading impression that Werritty was an official adviser".

Cameron on Saturday said that Fox had his "full confidence" despite the allegations about Werritty, who was best man at Fox's wedding but has no official government role.

But hours later Downing Street said Cameron wanted a preliminary report setting out the facts by Monday and was not prepared to wait until an internal Ministry of Defence (MoD) inquiry reports back in a fortnight.

Fox, who visited Libya on Saturday, ordered the MoD inquiry on Friday into claims that Werritty had privileged access to him despite having no official role or security clearance.

The row escalated on Saturday when newspapers reported that Werritty had brokered a meeting in Dubai in June between Fox and a company hoping to sell phone call encryption technology to the British military.

© 2011 AFP

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