Hague dodges stock response

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William Hague, one of the few men to shock the Federation of Conservative Students by being more right-wing on crime than they were, was facing ignominious exposure last night as the husband of a tax-disc dodger.

The leader of the law-and-order party, who told the student group in 1986 that criminals should be put in the stocks, was forced to put his hands up to the inadvertent offence.

While it was Ffion who accidentally let the road tax on her Range Rover get two weeks out of date, it was her husband who put her on the wrong side of the law by leaving it in a public car park.

The oversight might not have been discovered had it not been compounded by a further crime - the theft of the vehicle from Teesside Airport, where Mr Hague had left it on February 15.

The incident ended when the blue Range Rover, bought by Ms Jenkins last August, was discovered by police two days later, abandoned 30 miles away in Redcar, Cleveland.

They were unable to trace ownership of the vehicle to Ms Jenkins though, and Mr Hague did not discover the theft until February 21, when he returned to pick it up.

A statement from Conservative Central Office on the issue last night was terse: "The tax-disc lapse was an oversight which has been rectified today," it said.

Mr Hague has been reported to be in favour of bringing back the birch for more serious offenders as well as the stocks for minor miscreants, presumably such as himself. He also believes in capital punishment, though it is presumed that, despite his embarrassment, he still does not rank Range Rover thieves in this category.

Last night Labour sources were restraining their urge to make political capital out of the incident, although there was a certain amount of glee in their demeanour.