Davies refused explanation to Blair

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The Independent Online
RON DAVIES was last night facing mounting pressure to quit as leader of the Welsh Labour Party as it was claimed that he refused to answer questions from the Prime Minister about his bizarre encounter on Clapham Common.

Three suspects were arrested yesterday by police investigating the theft of Mr Davies's car, wallet, Filofax, and mobile telephone, after he met a stranger on the common in south London and drove to meet two of the man's accomplices in a run-down council estate in nearby Brixton. His car was also recovered from the area yesterday.

As Westminster was buzzing with rumour, the Prime Minister's spokesman revealed that Tony Blair had pressed Mr Davies to give answers to the continuing questions about the reasons why he made a "serious lapse of judgement".

But in their 45-minute interview before his resignation as Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Davies stuck to the terms of his statement, admitting he had been foolish without giving an explanation.

"There are no salient facts in our possession that were not in yours in terms of the incident itself," the spokesman told a press briefing at No 10.

Ministerial sources said that some Cabinet ministers may have to change their private telephone numbers for security reasons because of the theft.

Mr Davies was last night in a secret location considering his political future with his wife and daughter, but suggestions that he is preparing to fight to keep his role as the potential first minister in Wales were met with incredulity by colleagues at Westminster. "He is a non-starter for the job," said one minister. "His position is just not sustainable any more," added a close Labour colleague.

Downing Street effectively handed Mr Davies the pearl-handled revolver and the bottle of whisky by making it clear that he was being given time to take the honourable way out of resigning from the leadership of the Welsh Labour Party in spite of the support from his local party leaders in Caerphilly.

"Ron has gone away with his wife and daughter ... to assess this situation. It is right he does that without pressure from us," said Mr Blair's spokesman.

After winning the "yes" vote on the referendum for the Welsh assembly, Mr Davies is reluctant to give up the chance to be the first minister. He beat Rhodri Morgan, a senior Labour backbencher, in the party election for the leadership.

Mr Morgan, who yesterday saw Alun Michael, Mr Davies's replacement at the Welsh Office with Welsh Labour leaders, is expected to be one of the leading candidates for the post.

Down in the Valleys, page 3

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