Charity takes on the world's biggest diamond exhibition

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The Independent Online

* The Natural History Museum has found itself at the centre of a bitter row over diamond mining.

* The Natural History Museum has found itself at the centre of a bitter row over diamond mining.

They are assembling the world's largest ever collection of the stones and will display them this summer, with sponsorship from the diamond traders De Beers.

I learn, however, that the exhibition is to be targeted by opponents of the company, who claim its mining practices have resulted in the uprooting of native bushmen in Botswana. De Beers has dismissed the charity's claims as "erroneous".

"We asked first for one corner to put our point of view across, but they told us there isn't space," says Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, which leads the campaign. "The museum is a public body, and for them to put on an exhibition funded like this is not acceptable."

The animosity between De Beers and SI has a long history. Last year, it was said that the charity persuaded the model Iman to stop advertising De Beers diamonds after explaining its concerns to her, though De Beers maintains that SI had nothing to do with her departure.

The museum admits that it won't be giving SI a platform within the exhibition and stands by its sponsors.

"We commission ethical reports from the Institute of Fundraising on anyone we have such dealings with," I'm told. "But we are still talking to Survival International about their worries."

* A CURIOUS PR stunt from Tom Cruise has backfired in spectacular fashion.

The Hollywood actor who made his name in Top Gun , is the best known follower of L. Ron Hubbard's "new religion" of Scientology. He never misses an opportunity, when giving interviews, to hold forth on the subject, occasionally to the chagrin of showbiz hacks more interested in other aspects of the superstar's life.

In an attempt to win them over, he recently dispatched plaques wrapped in gold paper to a number of the most influential LA correspondents, with the 12 rules of Scientology on them.

"This was eccentric, to say the least," says one. "But what annoyed people more was the note that he enclosed, saying he'd made a donation to Scientology in our names."

A number of recipients have since written back to Mr Cruise asking him not to act on their behalf again.

* WHITEHALL ECHOES with whispers that John Birt - the famously bureaucratic former director-general of the BBC - wants to join the Civil Service.

Birt who has worked as an adviser to Tony Blair since he left the Beeb, has expressed an interest in succeeding Sir Andrew Turnbull as Cabinet Secretary when the latter retires in September; and Labour insiders say that Blair is keen for him to land the job.

"This is unlikely," a Cabinet Office spokesman tells Pandora. "The form is for cabinet secretaries to retire at 60, and Lord Birt turned 60 in December."

Interesting, therefore, that the Civil Service is facing strike action on 23 March from employees who are unhappy that the retirement age is about to be raised to 65.

"The appointment is ultimately in the Prime Minister's gift," concedes the spokesman.

* ROLL UP! Roll up! Tickets for Ann Widdecombe's lecture at Haywards Heath, West Sussex, have been advertised with the following exciting blurb:

"Former shadow secretary of state and shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe is set to reveal all at Clair Hall. Having retired from politics, she is now able to speak about issues she feels strongly about without the fear of reprisals."

Just one catch: Miss Widdecombe, of course, is very far from retired.

"It won't stop her being forthright, though," says a friend. "It certainly never has in the past."

* Say what you like about Robert Kilroy-Silk's newly founded party Veritas, but its current crop of members aren't the sort of men to pick a fight with.

Just weeks after Kilroy appointed former boxer Winston Mckenzie as his sports spokesman, I hear their first election candidate (for a local by-election in Bolton), one David Hodgson, can also look after himself.

"He's a former captain of the British karate team," says a daunted polling-day rival. "Veritas are starting to look rather formidable - on the physical front, at least."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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