Pandora

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The Independent Culture
NORMAN LAMONT smells a rat. The former Chancellor has been trying to find out why, last December, baggage belonging to General Pinochet's staff was broken into at Heathrow while they were being interviewed by Special Branch. Although nothing was taken from the bags, letters found in them were opened. Lamont has now received answers from the Government, giving a categorical assurance that Special Branch was not involved. So, that leaves the finger pointing at the baggage handlers, doesn't it? Lamont is dismissive of such a notion. "What would baggage handlers want with private letters?" The Tory peer has vowed to stay on the scent, telling Pandora: "I have great difficulty in accepting the assurances offered."

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PANDORA HAS unearthed some more evidence of doubting Thomases. Labour MP Tam Dalyell recently asked the Ministry of Defence what it paid journalists for being "an asset", "an assistant" or for just "keeping their eyes open". Hacks looking to earn a little extra on the side may take some comfort from the Secretary of State George Robertson's evasive answer: "No journalist paid for work by my department is appointed directly in the terms of the categories set out by my honourable friend."

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THE VETERAN DJ John Peel has some top tips for wangling free hotel accommodation. Peel (pictured) explains to the latest issue of Q magazine that if he stays in a hotel he expects some peace and quiet. "The last time I complained, the couple next door were in what the tabloids call a `love romp'. I wrote a sarcastic latter to the hotel saying that the man had been rehearsing a seal act in the adjoining room. They gave me a free room the next time I went there!"

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THERE IS more to Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, than meets the eye. As readers will know, Pandora recently revealed Pound to be part of the Limerick Three, a group of Labour MPs who while away their time in committees by composing witty ditties (see 5 February). But Mr Pound revealed a more spiritual side when he remarked in a Commons debate recently that he is "a person who tries to lead my life in imitation of Christ". Pandora is informed that Pound is a particularly good mimic of Tony Blair. Can this be what our man from Ealing is referring to?

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PANDORA WAS delighted to be among the throng gathered for the the British Book Awards at the Hilton Hotel last Friday. At a packed reception, Pandora noted that Sir Edward Heath was particularly resplendent in his white dinner outfit, contrasting with the black suits of the other guests. Heath was observed in polite conversation with the New Labour couple Ken and Barbara Follett, next to Ben Elton and Roy Hattersley who were busy taking photocalls. Meanwhile, Uri Geller was skulking in corners doing his old cutlery trick. One young lady who claimed she had never seen it was treated to a special performance with a teaspoon, which Geller then signed. Afterwards Pandora heard him admit: "Of course, it doesn't always work."

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"I'M DELIGHTED to support this championship. This initiative brings together two of football's breeding grounds - Hackney Marshes and five- a-side football." That was the fertile quote given by the Prime Minister in support of what the Hackney Gazette calls "Britain's biggest soccer football tournament", to take place this summer. Mr Blair is rumoured to be bolstering the tournament by bringing his own all-star Cabinet team. A mouth-watering prospect. Pandora can see the line-up now: Frank Dobson in goal, Robin "Chopper" Cook up front, John Prescott on the left-wing, Clare Short generally putting her foot in it, and the Welsh Secretary Alun Michael left to, er, sweep up.

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HAS THE Star Wars backlash already started? Certainly the X-Files star David Duchovny thinks so. "I say let's relax about Star Wars. They were good movies... But they are not the most momentous event of our lifetime."

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