Identity of drugs case minister `to be revealed within days'

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The Independent Online
The great secret which has been the key talking point at New Year parties - the identity of "Cabinet minister X" - could be settled within days. Colin Brown and Michael Streeter say the Government is keen to get it out in the open before Parliament returns.

The son of "Cabinet Minister X" who was accused of drug-dealing could be let off by the police with a caution within the next few days, freeing the minister to reveal his identity before the Commons returns from the New Year recess.

Colleagues of the minister, whose identity has been an open secret around Whitehall and the subject of New Year party speculation across Britain, believe it is vital that the air is cleared before he is named under the cover of parliamentary privilege.

It is feared that a rebel Labour backbencher or an opposition party MP will use Commons privilege to name the minister by tabling a Commons question or challenging the Prime Minister at Question Time about his position, unless he reveals his identity next week.

The Government believes the issue will be settled quickly if the minister is allowed publicly to defend his position, and his actions in taking his son to a police station after the boy was accused of selling pounds 10-worth of cannabis to a reporter in a pub.

The minister's son is expected to be cautioned by the police and let off with a warning because of lack of evidence. Another boy who allegedly supplied the drug may be cautioned, and no action taken against the Daily Mirror journalist, Dawn Alford.

That could enable the Cabinet minister to reveal his identity without being held in contempt of court for identifying the boy. Ministers believe that the identity of their colleague should be disclosed to avoid any charge in the Commons of an attempt at a cover-up.

Mr X has made it clear that he wants to disclose his identity but has been following legal advice that it was impossible for him to do so until the charges against his son have been dealt with.

The minister, who spent New Year with his family at a house in the country, was last night back in London to hear about how one of his protection officers dealt with a fracas at a neighbour's house. The Independent has learned that a police officer stationed outside Mr X's home on New Year's Eve stopped a fight at a nearby house where gatecrashers attempted to disrupt a New Year party.

Both the minister and his family have been feeling the intense pressure surrounding the speculation about his identity, but sources close to him last night said there was no suggestion that he would switch portfolios or resign.

"The minister and his family have been under a lot of pressure, but they are bearing up. He is in a ridiculous position. But the fact is, he is prevented from saying anything by law. If that position changed, and there was no legal bar to him doing so, it would all become clear.

"He feels at the end of the day people will respect him for what he has done. He had astatement ready to release before he went down to the nick with the lad, but the lawyers, the son's solicitor and the Attorney-General all said you cannot do that," said the source.

The apparent recommendation by Scotland Yard that there should be no prosecution is based on concerns about being able to prove in court the charge of unlawful supply.

The two criteria by which prosecutors judge every case is whether first there is sufficient evidence to have a good chance of conviction, and secondly, whether it is in the public interest to go ahead with the case.

If there is sufficient evidence in a case of allegedly supplying drugs, even when it concerns small amounts, such as here, the prosecution will normally go ahead - unlike possession of small amounts, when a police caution is a common option. This suggests that the police in the minister's son's case, who have interviewed both the youth and Ms Alford, who bought the drugs, are unhappy about conflicts in the evidence.