Burglars strike at minister's home

BURGLARS HAVE struck at the home of Helen Liddell, the Deputy Secretary of State for Scotland. A handbag containing two mobile phones and confidential contact books is believed to have been stolen.

Mrs Liddell is understood to have been at her Renfrewshire village home reading when her bag was snatched from another room on Sunday. The 48- year-old minister contacted the police moments after the burglars left the house.

Although Mrs Liddell's own department is not security sensitive, her contact books are assumed to have contained the private telephone numbers of cabinet ministers and senior government officials.

Strathclyde Police would not confirm Mrs Liddell's home had been burgled. "We can confirm we are investigating a theft from the home of an MP," said a spokesman. "It would be inappropriate to identify the MP or to give details of what has been stolen." Special branch officers are reported to be involved in the investigation.

The Scottish Office also declined to discuss the burglary, saying it was a personal matter. However, the Scottish Labour Party was more forthcoming, acknowledging there had been a break-in at the minister's home and that mobile phones with pre-programmed numbers had been stolen.

"There was no breach of security," a spokeswoman said. "There was no way of accessing any numbers because the batteries were run down and the Sim card was cancelled."

Mrs Liddell, MP for Airdrie and Shotts, has a reputation as a political streetfighter and someone with a temper to make burglars tremble.

Mr Blair gave her the job of taking on the Scottish Nationalists in the run-up to Home Rule elections and created for her the title of Deputy Secretary of State for Scotland.

She will not be standing for the new parliament and is expected to take over the reins at Westminster when Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State, becomes either First Minister of Scotland or leader of the Labour group at Holyrood.