Election `97: Fayed helicopter transports Blair

Tony Blair yesterday flew from London to Derby in a helicopter owned by the proprietor of Harrods, Mohamed Al Fayed, the man at the heart of the "cash for questions" allegations.

Three weeks ago, the Labour leader threw his campaign schedule into chaos to avoid a potentially embarrassing meeting with Mr Fayed by refraining from boarding his campaign helicopter at Battersea Heliport in south London until the Harrods supremo had landed in his and been whisked away.

Mr Blair's delay that day came when his press secretary, Alastair Campbell, spotted two photographers on the tarmac. They had learned that Mr Fayed's aircraft was due to land from his estate in Boxted, Surrey, just as Mr Blair was due to board his Cab Air Squirrel bound for a meeting with children at a school in Redditch, Hereford and Worcester.

A senior Labour source said at the time: "Their eyes lit up and we realised that a meeting could have been misconstrued".

However, yesterday Mr Blair was flying high in a Fayed-owned machine. The Labour leader and his wife Cherie flew from Battersea Heliport to Derby on another leg of his campaign trail.

A Labour source said yesterday that a leasing company, Jet Air, hired the machines which were owned by other people, and one belonged to Harrods. The source insisted that Mr Blair had been unaware of who owned the helicopter and said that it had not been not been decorated in the Harrods green and gold livery.