Security alert after journalist tours No 10

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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

Downing Street is investigating a report that a journalist was able to gain admission to Number 10 by using a builder's security pass.

The contractor had been working inside the Prime Minister's residence during a rewiring operation and redecorating work through the summer. He was a familiar face to police guards on duty outside, and should have handed in his ID pass, but he kept it for several days. When he returned, he was accompanied by Martin Dunn, a reporter from the Daily Mirror, who said he had spent 48 minutes walking around the Treasury and Cabinet offices and Number 10, and got to the door of the Prime Minister's own private quarters.

The incident follows a report some months ago that a cleaner was able to gain access to rooms inside Downing Street without security checks.

Security at Downing Street was tightened six years ago at the height of an IRA terror campaign. The Prime Minister now has police protection and hi-tech security.

A Downing Street spokesman was keen to play down the security breach, saying that John Major was not at risk: "We are satisfied that the Prime Minister's security is satisfactory. Any evidence of an alleged breach in security should be given to us. Any breach found to have taken place ... will be immediately investigated and any necessary action taken."

n A new "spin doctor" has been appointed by Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party chairman, to boost the Conservative Party's fight to win back support. Sheila Gunn, 47, a journalist with the Times for 12 years, will take up the post to replace Tim Collins, who has been adopted for the Conservative seat of Westmorland.

Ms Gunn's name hit the headlines when it was disclosed that she had an affair with Steve Norris, the Transport Minister, when she was a political correspondent.

She will leave her current post as the deputy editor of the newspaper's Diary column to take up her new role shortly.

Dr Mawhinney is also hiring a broadcasting journalist and a writer from one of the tabloid newspapers to complete the reorganisation of his press team in an attempt to match the Labour Party's skilful team of "spin doctors" led by Alastair Campbell.

The hiring of fresh blood underlines the extent to which the Conservative Party leadership believes it has lost the automatic support of certain areas of Fleet Street.