Heseltine admits to false accusation

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Michael Heseltine has admitted making unfounded allegations against a civil servant in his evidence to a cross-party Commons select committee.

The Deputy Prime Minister admitted the mistake in a letter to the Commons select committee on public affairs, and asked the MPs to "disregard this part of my evidence".

The embarrassing retraction followed a sustained attack on civil service leakers by Mr Heseltine at a hearing of the committee in which he referred to the disclosure of an internal Treasury paper in the summer. He did not identify the civil servant, but it was thought to be Helen Goodman, who applied to stand for the Labour seat of Barnsley East but withdrew. She is now on maternity leave and was cleared of any involvement in the leaking of the document.

Mr Heseltine wrote: "I mentioned in my replies to questions that I understood that a Labour candidate had leaked documents whilst a civil servant. On re-reading my papers I find that I had misread the original press report."

Mr Heseltine's letter reinforced his attack on the civil service unions. "I find it depressing that trade union officials speaking on behalf of senior civil servants are in practice supporters of the Labour Party. This must inevitably raise questions as to the degree of detachment they bring to their pronouncements."

Leaders of the civil service unions, who protested to Sir Robin Butler, the head of the civil service, were outraged by the letter. "He has admitted he was wrong, but he has still not apologised," said one civil service leader.

The leaders of all the main civil service unions, representing top civil servants in Whitehall, including ministerial press officers, held a press conference to deny his allegations.