Mrs Howard's 'sorry' by fax

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The Independent Online
The curse of the fax machine caused fresh pain at Conservative Central Office yesterday, after a private letter to a Tory rebel from the wife of the Home Secretary, saying his treatment by the party was "monstrous", came out on the wrong fax machine.

Michael Howard faced embarrassment after the personal message of sympathy from Sandra Howard to Peter Thurnham, the MP who resigned the Tory whip in protest at the Scott report, and his wife Sarah, became public when it was inadvertently faxed to a newspaper.

In the letter, Mrs Howard, a former model, wrote: "I do wish you could stay in the fold - that I know sounds ridiculous but we care on personal grounds. I know how poorly you seem treated. It's monstrous but it's not the fault of the whole body of Conservatives, sensible and honest and caring as the vast majority are... "

She added: "Michael has no idea that I'm writing [and trying to defend the Government and the party] but he and I have such a bottomless well of admiration for you both and feel so desolate that you should have felt so badly as to not be able to stay loyal to a great and good party... "

Mr Thurnham's secretary was faxing the letter to the MP's wife, but it went by accident to his local newspaper in Bolton. Making the best of a bad job, the Tories circulated the letter at Westminster last night, insisting that it contained nothing to be embarrassed about.

The letter was sent to Mr Thurnham on Saturday, 24 February - two days after he humiliated John Major by resigning within hours of meeting him to hear his appeals for the MP to stay in the party. On Monday, 26 February, Mr Thurnham voted against the Government on the Scott report.

He protested to Mr Major at not being given an interview for the Westmorland and Lonsdale seat, for which Mr Major's former adviser, Tim Collins was selected. Mrs Howard's note, written by hand on personal, headed notepaper, underlined the feeling that he was shabbily treated.

A fax intended for Jonathan Aitken, the former Treasury minister, warning that a tabloid newspaper was preparing a damaging report on him, was faxed to the wrong number, and emerged in the Independent on Sunday.

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