MP fights SFO over public hearings

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FRANK Field, chairman of the Commons Social Security Select Committee, is to fight attempts by the Serious Fraud Office to stop the committee questioning former Maxwell business associates in public hearings, writes Jason Nisse.

Mr Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, is angry about the encroachment of the SFO into his committee's investigation of the Maxwell scandal. The SFO has argued that the public questioning of people connected with Maxwell, such as Lord Walker and Lord Stevens, may prejudice the trials of Kevin and Ian Maxwell.

The Department of Trade and Industry inquiry into Mirror Group Newspapers is also now unlikely to be published until after the trials have ended, which may not be until 1995.

The scheduled appearance by Basil Brookes, former finance director of Maxwell Communication Corporation, before the committee last Tuesday was cancelled after an eleventh-hour intervention by George Staple, head of the SFO.

Mr Staple met Mr Field and other senior members of the committee on Thursday in an attempt to sort out the problem. During a two-hour meeting, the MPs offered five options to the SFO, including holding the meetings 'in camera', in an attempt to find a compromise solution.

But no agreement was reached and it is understood that Mr Field was angered by the SFO's attitude and is now planning to press for full, open meetings.

It is a question of people 'being forced to face public scrutiny', a source close to the select committee said.

(Photograph omitted)