Gag on naming minister's son

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The Independent Online
The Government is digging itself into a legal quagmire in a bid to forestall public identification of the teenage son of the Cabinet minister at the heart of the London pub cannabis affair.

Solicitors acting for the minister and his 17-year-old son, who is said to have admitted supplying less than two grams of the drug to a Daily Mirror reporter, yesterday telephoned newspapers warning them not to print either name.

Geoffrey Bindman, a leading London solicitor, said that officials in the department of the Attorney General, John Morris, were monitoring events and that naming the youth or his parent would constitute contempt.

Downing Street is determined to invoke the provisions of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act, which prohibits the publication of the names of juveniles under 18, to ensure that the top-level minister's name remains secret. But there is unease in Labour's ranks that the minister's identity is being kept from the public while it is known throughout the media, Westminster and the "chattering classes" in the capital.

Some MPs are also unhappy that the "fast track" punishment policy promised by Labour to bring persistent young offenders to book is now being used to hush up a political embarrassment for a Cabinet minister.

Det Chief Insp Keith Gausden, who will tomorrow take a statement from a Mirror reporter, Dawn Alford, about the alleged sale of cannabis to her by the youth for pounds 10, said yesterday the police were "under quite a degree of pressure to get this to the Crown Prosecution Service" for a decision on whether or not to prosecute the youth.

Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, said last night: "The minister's son ... must be treated in exactly the same way as anyone else." Putting him on the fast track "could be interpreted as preferential treatment to protect the minister", he said.

"Fast track law for juveniles was intended to get troublemakers off the streets, not to avoid embarrassment to ministers ... Certain Cabinet ministers have been sanctimonious and censorious in denouncing those who sell recreational drugs and have insisted that the parents must share the blame. The minister concerned could be open to the accusation of saying one thing and doing another."

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has turned down a formal approach for an interview from the Independent on Sunday.

A Labour MP, Charles Clark, last night admitted he had taken drugs "a couple of times in my late teens" but said he had never bought or traded in them and was opposed to the legalisation of cannabis.