Diplomacy: His wife decides to put things straight

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The estranged wife of Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, has alleged that he had several affairs during their marriage. She has also said that she knew about his relationship with his secretary, for whom he left her. Andrew Buncombe reports.

When the Foreign Secretary announced last year he was leaving his wife for his secretary, Gaynor Regan, Margaret Cook was the epitome of dignified reserve. She even blamed the break-up on Tory NHS cuts and praised her husband's political skills.

But Mrs Cook appears to have decided it is time to put some things straight. In a forthcoming book she claims Ms Regan was not the first woman with whom her husband had had an affair.

In the book, Westminster Women, by Linda McDougall, wife of the Labour MP Austin Mitchell, Mrs Cook claims that she and her husband stayed together despite him having several affairs. She claims she also knew about the affair with his secretary.

Yesterday, as some sections of the media launched a search for these alleged other women, Mr Cook was having a "normal working day".

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Mr Cook said all he had to say about the break-up of his marriage last August. He is getting on with the hard work required by his busy job as Foreign Secretary and building a new private life."

Mr Cook took the decision to leave his wife when he learnt that a Sunday newspaper was about to reveal details of his affair. In the forthcoming book Mrs Cook reveals that her husband was informed of this by Tony Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, who rang the Foreign Secretary as the Cooks were on their way to Heathrow Airport for a riding holiday in Montana.

Mr Cook informed his wife that their marriage was over in a VIP room at Terminal 4, Heathrow. Mr Campbell yesterday denied he had told Mr Cook that he had to stay in Britain.

Mrs Cook, 52, a consultant haematologist, yesterday said through her lawyers: "The stories in today's press relate to things which were said ... at the time of my marriage break-up. No recent statement has been made by me .

"As I said at the time of the break-up, my husband has always been a first-rate parliamentarian and as expected he has proved to be a highly distinguished Foreign Secretary. Other matters are no concern of the public ... Robin and I now lead separate lives and I would request that we are allowed to get on with our respective jobs in peace."

Mrs Cook, who has two children, also claims Tony Blair sent her a letter in which he said that he and his wife, Cherie, were sad about the pressures she faced, but omitted to say he was sorry that the marriage was over.

On a television programme, a tie-in to the book and also called Westminster Women, to be shown this Sunday, Mrs Cook says: "I think women are emotionally much more mature than men. I also think that they don't regress either when they reach a certain age."