SNP accuses minister's aide of inventing death threats

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The Independent Online
THE SCOTTISH health minister, Susan Deacon, has rejected calls for a statement following allegations that Labour had exaggerated the nature of threats against her by anti-abortionists.

"This debate is far more important than any individual or any personalities or any politician involved," she told BBC Scotland's Holyrood programme. "I read in the press, for example, of opposition politicians calling for emergency statements about special advisers and the like."

"I would like to see them calling for emergency statements about teenage pregnancies. I would like to see them asking me to comment on the real issues that challenge us."

The SNP leader, Alex Salmond, demanded an explanation to Parliament from the First Minister, Donald Dewar, on "extremely serious allegations" about Mr Dewar's chief of staff, John Rafferty. Mr Salmond wanted know how the allegedly "false" stories about death threats against Ms Deacon had appeared in the media, and what Mr Rafferty's role had been. "Only a First Ministerial statement is adequate to deal with allegations involving a senior public servant who is directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament," he said.

Ms Deacon warned militant anti-abortion campaigners last week to "back off" from harassing family planning clinics or face legal action. Tories and the SNP have claimed that reports of death threats allegedly made against Ms Deacon later were the product of an out-of-control Labour spin machine. Labour has said Ms Deacon was the target of "a couple of nasty phone calls" but has denied disclosing the content of these. A spokesman today declined to comment on the renewed SNP attack.

In a separate twist to the saga, Jim Dowson, of the Precious Life Scotland anti-abortion group, insisted he had made no secret of his pro-loyalist past. The Sunday Herald newspaper said he had been the organiser of a flute band which recorded a tape dedicated to the loyalist killer Michael Stone.

Mr Dowson said: "I have been totally open and honest about my Orange and loyalist past. Since becoming a Christian I have renounced, and denounced that ... The question must be asked as to why the moral vacuum existed that allowed sectarianism to flourish."

The Catholic church in Scotland distanced itself from Precious Life Scotland, but emphasised that it had already criticised militant anti-abortionists. Cardinal Thomas Winning, the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics, said: "Before we change any laws we need to change attitudes and we will never change the attitudes of our fellow Scots by shouting at them, jostling them, or frightening them."