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JOHNNY DEPP is set to star in the supernatural thriller The Ninth Gate, Roman Polanski's first film since 1995. The exiled director was forced to abandon The Double three years ago after John Travolta stormed off the set - and Sean Penn, Robert de Niro and Al Pacino all suddenly discovered previous commitments preventing them stepping before his cameras. Paris-based Polanski has been negotiating with the Los Angeles District Attorney's office to have charges dropped dating from an incident more than 20 years ago when he was accused of having sex with a 13-year-old girl. With paedophilia in the Nineties occupying the position that Communism did in the Fifties as the zeitgeist's pariah vice, sources say the Polish- born auteur has been advised not to hold his breath.

CHARLES KENNEDY is not universally popular among his party's elder statesmen. Politicos know that when the precocious Kennedy first won Ross Cromarty & Skye at the age of 23, David Owen responded: "Who? Where?" But delve into Owen's memoirs and you'll discover that Roy Jenkins thought Kennedy was one of a group of SDP types who were "mesmerised" by the vampiric Owen, while Bob Maclennan described the young Scot as a "Judas" after voting against a motion particularly close to Bob's heart. But Kennedy, Harvey, Hughes and other putative Lib Dem leadership contenders may rest assured that Owen should be distracted from meddling in the contest by his new fondness for some daft euro-bashing.

BEVERLEY HILLS citizens will vote this spring on an ordinance that would compel local furriers to tag merchandise with labels stating: "This product is made with fur from animals that may have been killed by electrocution, gassing, neck-breaking..." Sometime London resident Diana Ross (pictured) is leading the fur fans; Georgia-born belle Kim Basinger the antis. One Hollywood cynic says that the plan is academic anyway: "I don't think a stupid label's going to make any difference. In this town, women get minks the way minks get minks."

PARLIAMENTARIANS CONCERNED about GM foods are being served mixed messages by the Commons Catering Committee Chairman Dennis Turner MP. In July, he told his Lewes counterpart Norman Baker that no frankenfoods would sully Westminster's crockery. Then he sent MPs a letter last week stating "the Catering Committee does not have a policy of banning such foods". Foodies confused by this neither flesh-nor-fowl stance are now being told that there is a third way. According to the Director of Catering Services, no ban exists but there is "a policy of avoiding... the use of foods that are known to contain genetically modified organisms". Pass the hot potatoes.

IT'S A question that is preoccupying Millbank's young, hot-shot webmeisters. They had an irate call from Culture Secretary Chris Smith after he discovered the official Labour Party website listed him as single. This must have come as something of a surprise to Dorian Jabri, the force behind the Tools for Schools computer recycling initiative: he and Smith live together in Islington with their Tibetan terrier, Tian, and are a long-time, long- term couple. Smith's fusillade triggered a volley of calls from other ministers. One wants to post a new picture because the current snap makes his face "look too fat". Another has demanded the removal of all dates from her biography to "avoid her looking so old". Pandora has bottles of fizzy pop chilling on ice for the first readers to successfully identify the two ministers concerned.

PAPARAZZI SNAPS have surfaced showing Doris Day, 73, snogging her next door neighbour, some silver-tongued lothario of 79. Whipcrack-away!

LONDON IS sinking. The capital's water table is at half its depth of 30 years ago; a well in Trafalgar Square is filling up at the rate of three metres per year. London Transport is concerned enough to be meeting insurance experts to analyse the implications. Thames Water predicts that drilling holes to pump away a projected 70 million litres of surplus water will cost pounds 10m - plus pounds 2m per year for subsequent maintenance. Look for gushing mayoral wannabes to start fishing for those floating voters on a No Flooding platform. But how it will go down in west London's bijou Little Venice?

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