MP in sleaze case tells of `knives in my back'

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THE LABOUR Party tribunal investigating allegations of detrimental conduct by the suspended MP Tommy Graham began yesterday in an atmosphere of bitter recrimination.

Mr Graham, MP for West Renfrewshire, said there had been a systematic "conspiracy" against him, and added that if the National Constitutional Committee hearing expels him from the party he will continue to sit as an MP, working for his constituents and aiming to clear his name.

Mr Graham arrived for yesterday's hearing, at Keir Hardie House in Glasgow, proclaiming his innocence. "I've been waiting long enough for this," he said. "I am desperate to get in there and get the ball rolling.

"I'm now going to have my say for the first time in 12 months. I'm confident I'll get acquitted."

The MP said the past year had been the most "horrific" of his life, and claimed his critics were motivated by personal ambition, spite, animosity, and his "old Labour" image.

"I might not be the image they would like..." he said. "My back is full of knives. However, they will not remain there that long."

Mr Graham was suspended from Labour's parliamentary ranks last year after the suicide of the Paisley South MP, Gordon McMaster, whose death brought out into the open years of acrimony and faction-fighting within Labour's ranks in Renfrewshire.

Although Mr Graham was cleared of allegations that he had smeared Mr McMaster, he went on to face accusations of acting in a way prejudicial to Labour's interests, and the affair became the focus of damaging allegations of Labour "sleaze" in its urban Scottish heartland.

Yesterday's disciplinary hearing was held behind closed doors, with party officials refusing to give details of the five charges against Mr Graham.

They are believed to include an allegation about offering sexually compromising photographs of a trade union official in return for information, "bad mouthing" fellow MPs - including Irene Adams, the member for Paisley North - and a catch-all charge of acting in a way prejudicial to the party.

Party sources claimed last week that the case against Mr Graham was cast- iron and that he would become the first MP to be expelled by the Labour Party since the militants Dave Nellist and Terry Field in 1991.

But a dispute between potential witnesses and a feeling that the evidence might be rather thin caused some back-pedalling yesterday, with speculation that Mr Graham's punishment - if he is found guilty - might be limited to a further short suspension. He has already been suspended since last August.

The tribunal is expected to announce its decision today.

Whatever the verdict, the saga is likely to be a continuing embarrassment for Labour.

If Mr Graham is expelled, he intends to seek to overturn the decision through the civil courts and he will still remain a member of the House of Commons. If he is acquitted, or dealt with leniently, other MPs and senior figures in the Labour movement will have in effect been branded liars.