No 10 Closes Ranks over Sale of Hostage Stories ; Browne Accused of Dereliction of Duty
A WALL of silence was put up to shield the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister from fallout over the Iran hostages fiasco today.
With anger growing over the decision to let Leading Seaman Faye Turney and her fellow former captives cash in from their ordeal, the Government flatly refused to explain why ministers failed to intervene.
Former Labour defence minister Peter Kilfoyle accused Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, of shirking responsibility for a blunder that "beggars belief ".
He said: "What you cannot get away from is that responsibility rests with ministers. It seems an example of a minister trying to distance himself from a gross embarrassment. But he is still ultimately responsible." Mr Kilfoyle, who was a minister from 1997 to 2000, said it seemed "ultimately" that the decision had not been politically driven but "it has brought the Forces into disrepute and made them something of a laughing stock".
Mr Browne is set to be hauled to the Commons nextMonday to answer MPs' questions about what he knew and why he failed to stop the paid interviews.
The Ministry of Defence said he was informed last Friday that Service rules were being interpreted to allow interviews to be sold to the press. However, that now seems to have been a controversial interpretation of the Queen's Regulations, which have normally been seen as banning chequebook interviews.
Asked why Mr Browne failed to intervene, an MoD official said: "He was asked to note the interpretation, not to approve it. He is not an expert on the Queen's Regulations. It took a number of people at Fleet Headquarters to arrive at that interpretation." Downing Street was even more opaque.
Asked when the Prime Minister knew, the official spokesman said: "It is important that people do not focus on the process.
... I'm not going into the process of who knew what, where and when." Asked why Mr Blair did not intervene, the spokesman said: "We recognise this was a difficult decision taken by the Royal Navy and there was no easy answer." The spokesman for the Royal Navy at Fleet HQ in Portsmouth, Captain Mark Windsor, was also unforthcoming. Asked who took the decision there, he replied: "I cannot really shed any light on that." Asked whether lawyers or other Services were consulted, he said: "I am not prepared to go into any more detail."
Downing Street claimed that a decision on media payments "had to be taken in unique circumstances" although critics pointed out that it was not the first time that Iran had detained British forces.
A torrent of criticism from past and present Service chiefs was joined today by former UN Bosnia peacekeeping commander General Sir Michael Rose and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, the former chief of Defence Intelligence.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: No 10 Closes Ranks over Sale of Hostage Stories ; Browne Accused of Dereliction of Duty. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: April 1, 2007. Page number: Not available. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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