Politics: Prescott rounds on `smear campaign'

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The Independent Online
John Prescott yesterday said he had ordered the permanent secretary at his Whitehall department to conduct an audit on a deal involving his own son to clear his name and show it was all above board.

The Deputy Prime Minister was angry over allegations in the Observer that his authority was used to approve a property deal in Hull, where he has his constituency and his home, which could have benefited his eldest son, Jonathon.

Mr Prescott went on to BBC radio to refute the claims, and complained that it seemed that "open season" had been declared on him. Close friends of Mr Prescott said it was part of a smear campaign which had included someone searching through his refuse bin.

The allegations were said to be part of local "mud slinging" by supporters of ex-Labour councillors who had been deselected after allegations surrounding the local authority.

It was alleged that a local housing association sold former council houses worth pounds 20,000 to pounds 30,000 for only pounds 5,000 each after receiving sealed bids from a property company involving Mr Prescott's son.

Mr Prescott took the unusual step of ordering Andrew Turnbull, his permanent secretary at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, to investigate his own son's involvement in the deal.

Mr Prescott said: "I am absolutely sure there is nothing wrong, but I want the public to be sure that is the case."

A housing trust association offered a number of houses for sale to the council; the council rejected them, and invited tenders for the properties. A company, of which Mr Prescott's son is the contract manager, won the bid. "All that has happened is that he happens to have the name Prescott and this is making for a lot of attention who want to make a particular point."

He also dismissed Tory demands that he should be suspended from the Commons over failing to declare a pounds 27,500 donation to a blind trust. Mr Prescott said he had done nothing wrong in allowing the money to be paid into the fund by the Joseph Rowntree Trust for an independent report by former EU Commissioner for the regions, Bruce Millan, into regional development when Labour was in Opposition.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation last night issued a statement to clear Mr Prescott of any suggestion that the payment of money by the Trust for the research was linked with a change on housing policy.