Straw faces a torturous spell in the witness box

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The Independent Online

This month, Straw's staff wrote to Murray - who was sacked for blowing the whistle on human rights abuses - saying they'd "actively consider a claim for breach of confidence or Crown copyright" over his book, Murder in Samarkand.

Despite that threat, Murray's publishers, Mainstream, tell me they "intend to proceed" with the memoir, which will hit the shelves in July.

Meanwhile, Murray has used an interview with The Bookseller to launch a personal offensive against Straw, saying he has "proof that the Government has been obtaining intelligence from torture, and that Jack Straw approved it."

He's also happy to take the matter to court, adding: "The Government is seeking to undermine freedom of speech ... If they want to send me to prison, I am prepared."

The Foreign Office letter to Murray was drafted by legal advisors, who are anxious to avoid a hoo-hah similar to that inspired by the publication of Sir Christopher Meyer's memoir DC Confidential.

However, Straw's direct involvement makes it hard for them to keep him away from any trial. With this in mind, an FO spokesman stressed that they've yet to decide "how to take this forward."

* Kate Moss is occasionally ridiculed for hailing from deepest Croydon, but her background turns out to be more cultured than previously thought.

Her mother, Linda, is the subject of an approving press release from the Chambers Gallery, a favourite of the arty set.

She has agreed to open its next exhibition, of work by the trendy young artists Peter Harrap and Natasha Kissell. According to the release, Moss (Snr) has a fine "eye" for art, and recently spent £4,000 on one of Harrap's paintings of her daughter.

"I met Linda at a private view that was organised by Jude Law's sister, Natasha," says Harrap."She's got an interest in the scene through her daughter, and they also used to live with a photographer. It'll be great to have her along."

News that Linda Moss has invested in a painting of her daughter, left, will scotch rumours of a falling-out between the two.

Before Christmas, red-top gossips claimed - quite wrongly - that she'd failed to offer support during the supermodel's recent personal troubles.

* There is sadness for Gary Wilmott, TV host and owner of the most splendid collection of knitwear in show-business.

Two weeks before its first night, Wilmott's new musical, Personals, has been cancelled, under mysterious circumstances.

Cast and crew were informed last week. No official reason was given, but the producers, Oscada, are said to blame financial difficulties.

"All we can do now is to give customers their money back and move on," says the Blackpool Grand, where Wilmott was to begin a 19-city tour. "It's a shame, but out of our hands, I'm afraid."

Oscada weren't returning calls yesterday, but Wilmott isn't the only victim of the sudden cancellation.

The eminent composer Grant Olding had reworked the show's music and lyrics. "Of course he's upset," says a chum. "Still, Joanna Riding is about to appear in a West End tribute to his work, and she's his real priority right now."

* After yet another "inflation busting" increase in council taxes, here's a tale of the sort you couldn't make up.

Today, Lambeth Council holds a conference at which bigwigs will discuss ways to: "encourage ethnic participation in waste and recycling".

Its official purpose is to: "consider how local (recycling) schemes can be made more inclusive and accessible."

Some reckon this beyond parody. "Are bottle banks harder to use if you're white and middle-class?" asks one guest. "Of course they're not. The people of Lambeth are paying thousands for this pointless hand-wringing exercise."

Insists the council: "We're certainly not having a conference for the sake of having a conference."

* The Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger is involved in a vote-rigging scandal that would dignify your average banana republic. He's been caught attempting to alter the results of an online survey to uncover Britain's laziest politician.

The website www.writetothem.com yesterday published data showing how many letters, sent through their site, MPs bother to reply to. Although Labour's Graham Stringer finished rock bottom, Liddell-Grainger was excluded altogether.

"We caught him e-mailing himself through our site, then replying to it, to improve his score," says an organiser.

The MP cheerfully admits the offence. "I don't think anyone's going to lose too much sleep over this," reckons his office. "Generally speaking, we do our best to reply to enquiries."

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