Clark blames the Press for hounding Labour MP to his death

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The Independent Online
Press intrusion was blamed yesterday by Alan Clark, the Tory MP, for contributing to the persecution which drove Gordon McMaster, the Labour MP, to suicide.

Mr Clark, an outspoken former Conservative minister who has suffered from the press pack in the past, said new restrictions on press intrusion of privacy could have helped protect those like Mr McMaster who were in the spotlight.

The circumstances surrounding Mr McMaster's death may now increase the pressure for press privacy laws, which Tony Blair has been resisting. The previous Government decided against any immediate action after a long review by Virginia Bottomley, the former National Heritage Secretary.

The Labour chief whip, Nicholas Brown is investigating the allegations made in Mr McMaster's suicide note that two Labour figures, Don Dixon, a former deputy chief whip, and Tommy Graham, a Labour MP with a neighbouring seat, had been "bad mouthing" him. Both deny the claims.

The New Statesman this week carries an article by a gay journalist suggesting that Mr McMaster was a victim of repres- sed homosexuality. But Irene Adams, a close friend of Mr McMaster, said the press also played a part in the pressure on the MP by asking him whether he was dying from Aids.

Ms Adams recalled that Mr McMaster, who suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, which he believed was brought about by exposure to chemicals when he was gardener, could not speak because he was so upset and distressed by the call from a local reporter in Paisley.

Mr Clark said Lady Caithness, wife of a former Tory minister in the Lords, and Lady Green, wife of the former Director of Public Prosecutions, were both driven to suicide partly as a result of the pressure from the press.

He described the press as being like an "18th-century mob", and describes the treatment he and his family have received at the hands of reporters and photographers. On one occasion, Mr Clarke's wife, Jane, was wrongly told by the press that he had fathered a love child.

"This was quite remarkably cruel and deceitful behaviour," he wrote. He added: "No-one who has not experienced the pain of having their loved ones in tears for hours on end, their children too terrified to attend school, the feeling of total entrapment in their own house, can appreciate what this is like.

"And it is deliberate. It is, sometimes literally, a blood sport, and the practitioners enjoy it." He wrote: "It is routine practice for the wife to be goaded without mercy in order to provoke a `reaction'.

"If she stays contentedly married to a `cheat', she is a wimp and a `doormat'. "If she walks out, then it is the press who have scored. Another marriage wrecked - excellent."

"Press harrassment does drive some people over the edge. If you are in public life, you have to be able to resist it. But if you are innocent, at the edge of it, like Lady Caithness and Lady Green, it can be very cruel and lead to tragic results."

The most offensive journalists, he said, were the groups of reporters who waited on the doorstep, and the "monkeys" who popped their flashbulbs en masse at their victims.

Attacking the press complaints commission as "useless", Mr Clark said the Europ- ean Court of Human Rights was going to bring into English Law certain restrictions on the intrusion of the right of privacy which he welcomed.

But he also took a sideswipe on BBC radio at Frank Johnson, editor of the Spectator, for including Diana, Princess of Wales, in his article, without his permission. "I am very surpris- ed. The Spectator is meant to be a serious paper. That is why I sent it that article. I now wish I had sent it to Alan Rusbridger to put in the Guardian."