Cook in row on arms report leak

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The Independent Online
ROBIN COOK was hit by new controversy over the arms to Sierra Leone affair when it emerged he received a leaked copy of an MPs' report on the affair before its publication.

His junior minister Tony Lloyd had told an MP no one in the Foreign Office saw the report until the day of its release. He had already been attacked for telling the Commons the Government would not deal with mercenaries. But Sandline International military consultants had told Customs and Excise its representatives met or spoke to Foreign Office officials before shipping arms to Sierra Leone.

Ernie Ross, the MP responsible for the leak, resigned from the committee yesterday, saying he had breached the confidence of the body.

Cheryl Gillan, a member of the opposition foreign-affairs team, asked Mr Lloyd who in the Foreign Office first saw the report and when. His reply said: "Copies ... were collected from the Foreign Affairs Committee office ... on February 9." Mrs Gillan said: "Ernie Ross has now admitted he sent a copy ... to the Foreign Secretary in January. If Tony Lloyd was aware of this he should resign. Select committees are supposed to be a check on the Government. They are not supposed to collude with it."

In a Commons answer last night Mr Cook admitted receiving the draft report in January and final conclusions in February. Critical conclusions were leaked to The Independent around the same time.

"In advance of the publication of the report on February 9, we made no comment to the media about the report, except in response to leaks by others to the press." A Foreign Office spokesman said Mr Lloyd was unaware of the leak.