Suicide MP: Call for wider probe

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Labour's former chief whip Derek Foster was yesterday drawn into the controversy surrounding the suicide of Gordon McMaster, the Paisley South MP.

The current Chief Whip, Nick Brown, is to be asked to investigate allegations that his predecessor helped to squash a 1995 inquiry into vote-rigging and corruption in West Renfrewshire. The MP for that area is Tommy Graham, who was named with Mr Foster's former deputy, Don Dixon, in Mr McMaster's suicide note. Mr McMaster claimed Mr Dixon, now Lord Dixon, and Mr Graham had conducted a whispering campaign against him.

The latest twist in the saga was seized upon last night by Conservative opponents of devolution. They said Labour's failure to tackle rumours of whispering campaigns, vote-rigging and even drug-money laundering in the Paisley area bode ill for the future of a Scottish parliament.

The new allegations date back to 1995, when a three-member team was investigating allegations of vote-rigging in Mr Graham's constituency.

Derek Foster, then chief whip, and his deputy, Don Dixon, are alleged to have failed to take action against Mr Graham and to have written to the team describing him as a "hardworking and conscientious member". His constituency party was suspended.

It had been suggested that the letters were fakes, but Labour sources said last night that that possibility had been ruled out. The Chief Whip would have the matter drawn to his attention, they said.

Last night members of the Scottish party suggested they had had their hands tied by inaction in London. "The Scottish party took all the action that it could take, and referred to London matters where it could not act, like the behaviour of MPs, which was outside our powers. We did report on that aspect to London, but there was no action taken as far as I know," said one member.

Mr McMaster was suffering from fatigue caused by ME, but rumours had circulated that he was gay, and might be suffering from Aids. Both Mr Graham and Lord Dixon have denied making the allegations against him, though Mr Graham did say in a recent interview that Mr McMaster had a drink problem.

Allegations surfaced yesterday of links between Labour's Scottish general secretary, Jack McConnell, and Mr Graham. Mr McConnell was officially listed as Mr Graham's researcher at the time of the earlier inquiry, though he has said that he merely used a spare security pass belonging to the MP and that the arrangement was made through the whips' office.

It has also been suggested that Mr McConnell might be interested in standing for Mr McMaster's seat.

Last night it seemed increasingly likely that Mr Graham would face disciplinary action after the completion of Mr Brown's inquiry. He could face the withdrawal of the whip - the same penalty imposed on Mohammad Sarwar, the Glasgow Govan MP who was accused of trying to bribe an election rival to ease off on his campaign.

Irene Adams, the Paisley North MP, has handed a number of sworn affidavits to Mr Brown from senior party members who say Mr Graham was personally involved in a smear campaign against Mr McMaster. Mr Brown is expected to arrange a meeting this week with Mr Graham to seek an explanation for the discrepancy between this version of events and his own.

Mr McMaster had backed Mrs Adams in a fight against Paisley's violent drugs trade - a crusade that made enemies for both in Labour circles. Mrs Adams had alleged that a security company, set up with almost pounds 200,000 of public money as part of a regeneration scheme for a sink council estate, was being used to launder drugs proceeds.

Two councillors involved with the failed company, FCB (Security), vehemently denied any criminal links. Fraud squad officers investigated the company, and a report is being considered by the Crown Office. The Scottish Office also inquired into what had happened to pounds 330,000 of public money paid to the firm.

Some Labour figures have claimed that Mr Brown's inquiry will be a "whitewash" if it does not cover all the allegations surrounding Mr McMaster's death. However, party sources said last night that his remit was a narrow one and would cover only the immediate circumstances which led to him taking his own life.