Paper fires Self for taking brief too literally

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An award-winning author and journalist has been sacked by a Sunday newspaper after refusing to deny allegations that he took heroin on John Major's election-campaign aircraft.

Brian Mawhinney, the Tory party chairman, called in police to investigate claims that Will Self, who writes for the Observer, either smoked or injected the drug during a flight with Mr Major's campaign team from London to the East Midlands last Thursday.

A senior Conservative Central Office source confirmed last night that "a serious allegation was brought to the chairman of the Conservative Party on Saturday morning concerning an alleged incident on the plane ... we referred the matter to the police". More candidly, a press officer for Central Office said she had heard the incident involved someone "shooting up in the loo".

The Observer's editor, Will Hutton, last night said he had sacked Mr Self. "Serious allegations have been made against Will Self which today he has failed to deny," Mr Hutton said. "As a result his contract with the Observer has been terminated forthwith."

Mr Self has been with the paper on an 18-month contract as a feature writer and the Observer's TV critic.

A spokeswoman for the Observer said he had been sent on Major's plane to write a one-off piece for the election pages last Sunday.

He was also covering the election for the New Statesman which last month announced that he and the cartoonist Ralph Steadman would report the election in tribute to the "gonzojournalism" created in the 1970s by the American journalist Hunter S Thompson in partnership with Steadman.

This "new journalism" involved a disrespectful Dr Thompson ingesting large amounts of alcohol and drugs while following presidential candidates around the US.

Scotland Yard confirmed yesterday that an incident had occurred on the Prime Minister's plane last week but would not reveal further details or say who was alleged to have been involved.

The first reports of the alleged incident came to the attention of the Conservatives from political journalists on another Sunday newspaper who were on the flight last Thursday.

The front section of the British Midland 737 aircraft was occupied by Mr Major, his wife and a group of Tory media advisers as well as the Prime Minister's personal protection team. The rest of the plane is a mobile newsroom, where reporters, columnists from the national media and TV crews sit.

The lavatory where the alleged incident was said to have taken place is situated at the back of the aircraft. Mr Self is a controversial author whose best known works include The Sweet Smell of Psychosis and My Idea of Fun, but his best-selling novel was Cock and Bull which told of a woman who grew a penis and a man who grew female sex organs on the back of one leg.

Mr Self is a self-confessed former heroin addict. He has said that he was cured of a self-confessed "appalling heroin problem" at a rehabilitation centre in Weston-super-Mare in 1986.

Mr Self was not available for comment at his London home last night.

A Labour Party spokesman said last night that Mr Self was the only journalist to be denied a place on Tony Blair's campaign battle-bus because staff "were concerned about his reputation and possible behaviour".