Prescott pressed on links to Cyprus

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The Independent Online
JOHN PRESCOTT was under pressure to explain his links with North London's Greek Cypriots last night after one of his aides lobbied for a Greek Cypriot businessman.

New revelations about the Deputy Prime Minister's own involvement came as the row intensified over Alan Meale's support for Tony Kleanthous, chairman of Barnet Football Club. Mr Kleanthous wants to build a new stadium for his club and Mr Prescott must make a decision on the subject in the next few months.

Opposition spokesmen were preparing to raise the matter in Parliament, claiming Mr Meale, who was promoted in July to a ministerial job, broke the rules when he wrote letters on Mr Kleanthous' behalf. At the time he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr Prescott.

Another environment minister, Michael Meacher, entered the fray yesterday when he said that Mr Meale had been asked if he wanted to wipe the letters from the public record rather than have them passed on to a planning inquiry.

Mr Meale's officials said his letters to Dick Caborn, the planning minister, were representations on behalf of a constituent in Mansfield. Mansfield Town football club would be adversely affected if Barnet did not get its new stadium, they said. They added that Mr Meale was asked by officials if he wanted his letters to go forward to the planning inspector. If he had refused, they would not have been put on the record.

But the minister and his boss have made no secret of their friendships with members of the community from which Mr Kleanthous comes.

The Greek Cypriot Brotherhood, a community organisation based in North London, gave Labour a major donation at the last general election.

Mr Prescott has visited Barnet twice in the past year for Greek Cypriot functions, once to open a shop and once to open a bank. Mr Meale went with him on the latter occasion, along with a number of other Labour MPs. Several MPs list expenses-paid trips to Cyprus in the Register of Members' Interests. Mr Meale is among them, though Mr Prescott paid for his stay in Cyprus this September.

The shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions, Gillian Shephard, said Mr Prescott should make a statement about Labour's links with the Greek Cypriot community.

"He needs to make clear what sort of visits are being made to Cyprus by members of his department, and this includes Alan Meale. He needs also to make it absolutely clear ... why he should choose to go to Barnet twice to relatively low profile occasions," she said.

Mrs Shephard wrote to Tony Blair yesterday protesting at claims that Mr Meale's action fell into "an area of greyness" in the rules.

Mr Prescott and Tony Blair both defended the government yesterday without giving Mr Meale their full backing. Mr Prescott told a news conference on climate change that he had little to add to a statement on Sunday. "I think we made it absolutely clear in our statement that nothing improper had happened ... and I am very happy about that," he said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Tony Blair was "perfectly satisfied" with the way John Prescott's department had handled the issue.