Brooke is surprise successor to Mellor

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The Independent Online
DAVID MELLOR yesterday accused the press of running an 'alternative criminal justice system' in a resignation statement to MPs that could herald tougher curbs on the invasion of privacy by the media. The likelihood of such action was increased last night when John Major, in an astonishing move, replaced Mr Mellor by recalling Peter Brooke, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to his government.

The reappointment of Mr Brooke, 58, to the Cabinet came as a surprise to Tory MPs. His promotion from the back benches to replace Mr Mellor will be seen as evidence that Mr Major needs the wisdom of one of the party's widely respected elder statesmen in the Cabinet.

Mr Brooke stepped down in April, after 12 years in government, to stand for the Speakership of the Commons. He failed because he was seen as the establishment candidate.

Mr Brooke, who may play a steadying role in the Cabinet, will bring the care he displayed in the Northern Ireland office to the controversial issues now facing him at the National Heritage ministry, including the future of the BBC. A former party chairman, he is regarded as a traditional, patrician Tory who would want to preserve the public service role of broadcasting, although he is open to radical ideas.

Although he is expected to prove more prepared than Mr Mellor to take legislative action to curb the perceived excesses of the press, after the Mellor affair, Mr Brooke said last night at his new ministry that he was a believer in press freedom.

The former Secretary of State for National Heritage, who had been reviewing press rules on privacy, said in his warmly received resignation speech that he had been against legislation. But he warned the Commons that MPs would question whether it was for the public good to allow the press to 'bug, buy and abuse, and use methods that are amoral or, at best, morally neutral'.

MPs were predicting last night that the Mellor affair will increase the pressure on the Government to introduce a statutory code of conduct on the press, which it has so far resisted.

The Calcutt inquiry on the freedom of the press was expected to advise the Government not to take statutory action. But many Tory MPs are seeking to use a backbench Bill on press freedom and responsibility, to be introduced by the Labour MP Clive Soley in the new year, to introduce curbs on the invasion of privacy.

Mr Mellor, who jokingly compared his return to the backbenches with Captain Oates going out into the cold, was listened to with sympathy by the packed Tory benches. In an act of contrition, he said: 'I was the author of my own misfortunes.'

But Mr Mellor insisted he was not guilty of any impropriety over his acceptance of expensive holidays, although he acknowledged that some might question his judgement.

Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, said Mr Mellor had been forced out to avoid the Government being caught in the 'crossfire' with the tabloid press.

Mr Mellor said that in this day and age, his affair with Antonia de Sancha did not warrant the resignation of a Cabinet minister, but he protested at the 'offensive' invasion into his private life by the press and by photographers who chased his car 'like some Rambo film. That is the alternative criminal justice system run by the media. When the real criminal justice system was established, it was with checks and balances . . . . I think some will want to reflect on these matters.'

Speech, Brooke profile, page 8

Letters, page 15