John Major feared affair resignation precedent, David Mellor tells Leveson Inquiry


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The Independent Online

Ex-Conservative prime minister John Major feared that the resignation of ministers "found with unfortunate girlfriends" would set an undesirable precedent, former heritage secretary David Mellor said today.

Mr Mellor suggested to the Leveson Inquiry that he was prepared to resign in July 1992 when tabloid newspaper revelations about his involvement with actress Antonia de Sancha emerged.

He said he thought that he "understood better now" why then-prime minister Mr Major was against the idea.

In 2002, former Conservative health minister Edwina Currie revealed that she had an affair with Mr Major between 1984 and 1988 - and Mr Major described the relationship as the "event in my life of which I am most ashamed".

Mr Mellor, who resigned from the Major government in September 1992, discussed coverage of his involvement with Ms de Sancha when he gave evidence to the inquiry in London.

"With the benefit of hindsight, what I should have done is what I offered to do the first night it came out," Mr Mellor told inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson.

"John Major, for reasons I think I understand better now, didn't want to set an undesirable precedent about ministers resigning when they were found with unfortunate girlfriends."

Twenty years ago Mr Mellor faced tabloid allegations that he made love to Ms de Sancha wearing a Chelsea Football Club shirt.

"Anything about that Chelsea shirt," he told Lord Justice Leveson. "To be honest, I am sick and fed-up of it.

"All you will remember about me when I go to my grave is some bloody Chelsea shirt."

Mr Mellor told the inquiry that the story was "cooked up" by publicist Max Clifford and executives at the Sun newspaper - and he suggested that another newspaper had tapped a telephone.

"My story included, on the part of The People, a recourse to phone tapping that was wholly disproportionate to any public interest in the story," said Mr Mellor in a written statement to the inquiry.

"The Sun went one better, with a lot of cynically invented trash about Chelsea shirts, that exposed the moral bankruptcy of the whole kiss-and-tell industry.

"The story was cooked up for cash by Max Clifford and Sun executives, and given front-page publicity, even though they all knew it to be totally false."

Mr Mellor said his dealings with the tabloids two decades ago were relevant to the inquiry - set up last year in the wake of allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World newspaper.

"I decided not to apply to join the parade of victims at the beginning of this inquiry, but the events of 1992 are relevant, in that they show the ruthlessness of the tabloids in pursuit of their self-appointed role as exposers of sexual shenanigans, the extent to which the facts were never allowed to get in the way of a good story, and the unacceptable methods they used to obtain their material," he said in his witness statement.

"The cynicism was breathtaking, as was the arrogance. What they did to me in 1992 led inexorably to phone hacking etc, because these were people who considered themselves above and beyond the law, overmighty subjects, unencumbered by any requirement for responsibility.

"It is surely the plain duty of this inquiry to cut them down to size."