Hain joins row over candidate's past

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Political Correspondent

Peter Hain, the Labour MP for Neath and anti-apartheid campaigner, was yesterday drawn into the row over fellow South African John Lloyd, the former bomber and would-be Labour MP for Exeter.

As a 15-year-old in 1965, Mr Hain made a speech at the funeral of John Harris, who was hanged by the Pretoria government after Mr Lloyd turned state witness and gave evidence against him.

Labour Party sources did not deny that Mr Lloyd's political future was in doubt after it emerged yesterday that he had refused to retract the evidence he gave under duress once he was released and had emigrated to Britain. Mr Lloyd was asked to sign an affidavit supporting an appeal for clemency and initially agreed to do so, but then changed his mind.

Mr Lloyd and Mr Harris were both members of the African Resistance Movement and were friends of Mr Hain's parents, Walter and Adelaine Hain. The movement carried out sabotage against symbolic targets, such as radio masts, and had a policy of not endangering life, but Mr Harris planted a bomb in Johannesburg station which killed an elderly woman.

Mr Hain's parents, as members of the banned Liberal Party, were not allowed to attend the funeral, so their teenage son went in their place. He gave readings from the Bible and the writings of Martin Luther King. "My parents and I condemned what Harris did, but we stood by him, his wife and his baby son," Mr Hain said yesterday.

Although most white anti-apartheid activists denounced Mr Harris's action, they felt that Mr Lloyd had betrayed the cause. Mr Hain refused to comment on Mr Lloyd yesterday. But other opponents of the apartheid regime from the period said that he had failed to disclose all the information about his past. Paul Trewhela, who was in prison with Mr Harris in 1964, said yesterday that Mr Lloyd had shown "tremendous cheek in attempting to take up public office without accounting to British public opinion for his actions".

Mr Lloyd, now a British citizen and a barrister, told both his local Labour Party and Tom Sawyer, the party's national general secretary, about his membership of a "terrorist" organisation and his evidence, given under duress, against fellow anti-apartheid activists.

He was endorsed by the party's national executive as the candidate for the highly winnable Exeter seat last month. But Labour Party sources confirmed yesterday that they had not known he had failed to withdraw his evidence when asked to so.

Mr Lloyd yesterday explained why he had refused: "It seemed to me no court would give any credence to such a denial. If I thought it had the slightest chance of influencing the appeal for clemency, I would have done it. I thought how appalling it would be to apparently put my hand to a document saying I had lied. With hindsight, I might have done things differently, but my evidence was not untrue."

He said he "very much regretted" giving evidence against three other prisoners, who were given seven- and nine-year sentences, but that he was not asked to retract his evidence against them. One of them, Hugh Lewin, is still bitter on behalf of Harris, hanged on 1 April 1965. He described Mr Lloyd's refusal to retract as "irredeemable - it was as good as putting John Harris's head in the noose".