The 'Statesman' boldly goes where the BBC fears to tread

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The Independent Online

* When the Hinduja brothers start talking to lawyers, people get burned. So stand by for fireworks, because Mark Thomas looks to have found an outlet for his long-running investigation into Britain's most colourful Asian tycoons.

A week after it was axed by Newsnight, I gather that Thomas has persuaded the New Statesman to publish an account of his "sting" operation to catch the Hindujas allegedly breaking an embargo to sell military trucks to Sudan.

The magazine's editor, John Kampfner has seen Thomas' original report, and colleagues say that, subject to legal clearance, he'll run a printed version of it in a fortnight's time.

Thomas spent a year investigating the Hindujas, and his BBC report was twice scheduled for broadcast, before being dropped following submission from the Hindujas' lawyers.

They claim entrapment, and (among other things) have denied that the vehicles in question were of military specification.

Kampfner is spoiling for a fight. "Mark's report won't run this week, as we're doing some of our own checks, but after that its a shoo-in," says a colleague. "John's developed a real taste for a scoop, especially if it allows him to get one over on the BBC."

* Sir Richard Branson is about to become the latest patron to offer a helping hand to the fallen supermodel Kate Moss.

Following blithely in the footsteps of several fashion houses, Branson's Virgin Mobile telephone firm is about to sign her as the "face" of its youth brand.

It's a bold move, since Moss has only just emerged from rehab after she was photographed hoofing cocaine at a London recording studio with boyfriend Pete Doherty.

However, industry sources report that the mobile phone operator is in talks with Moss's representatives about "future brand activity, which will target 16- to 34-year-olds".

Although no deal has yet been completed, Branson is likely to cop a bit of flak from the whole thing, since several youth brands very publicly axed Moss from recent ad campaigns.

Perhaps that explains Virgin's reluctance to discuss the matter yesterday. "We've been told not to confirm or deny any future deal with Kate Moss," they said.

* Bertie Ahern's daughter Cecelia, who at the tender age of 23 is one of Ireland's best-selling authors, stands accused of high treason.

At the expense of her home country, Ahern decided to launch her new novel, If You Could See Me Now, in London. A bash was held in Mayfair on Monday night.

"Dublin was a natural place for Cecelia's last two launches, but she's a celebrity in Ireland now and wants to raise her profile over here," explains her publisher. "No snub was intended, but the next launch will almost certainly be in Dublin."

With a bit of luck, that'll mean the Taoiseach can attend. He was absent from Monday's launch, leaving parental duties to his ex-wife, Miriam.

* Some thought the Duchess of York's decision to allow her 17 year-old daughter, Princess Beatrice, to pose for Tatler magazine was - to quote the late Lord Charteris - "vulgar, vulgar, vulgar".

Fortunately, Her Ferginess has ignored their snobbish complaints. For I gather she is now keen for Beatrice's younger sister, Eugenie, to appear in her scanties on the pages of the society glossy.

"The magazines with Beatrice on the cover sold like hot-cakes," said Tatler editor Geordie Greig, at Josephine Hart's poetry hour on Monday. "We're in negotiations about Eugenie now, so we'll see what happens."

It may cause sisterly rivalry. "Eugenie is the really beautiful one," reckons Tatler stylist Isabella Blow. "Beatrice loved her pictures, and couldn't wait to see them in print. We could do something equally stunning with Eugenie."

* With its flashing light bulbs and transvestite potters, the Turner Prize is no stranger to controversy. But this year's ceremony looks like being the most contentious yet. The Tate has hired a security firm to police the event, after learning that opponents of its £700,000 purchase of Chris Ofili's "elephant dung" installation The Upper Room plan to stage a noisy protest outside.

A team of "heavies" will seal the building from protesters, who are upset that a charitable fund was used to buy the work a couple of years back. Ofili only quit as a trustee of the gallery earlier this week.

"We've got a number of banners ready, most of them criticising Ofili for making so much cash from the deal," reports one protester. "We'll all be wearing monkey masks, as his painting is of monkeys, and it'll get interesting if he turns up."