`Threaten me or my family and I'll belt you' - Prescott

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JOHN PRESCOTT moved to kill more smears against himself and his son, Jonathan, by warning that he would "take a belt" at anyone who threatened his family, writes Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent.

The Deputy Prime Minister last night told The Independent he would not "throw away the trust of the people", which had been given him on 1 May by allowing the smears to go unchallenged. He made it clear he would "hit back as hard as I can" at any claims made against him, or his family. "I will never sit there and be petrified by them. I will hit back as hard as I can as these allegations and slurs. I think that people expect that from me."

Mr Prescott and his close advisers believe others are seeking to sell more stories around Fleet Street from the so-called "dossier" compiled by two Hull men describing themselves as researchers who were interviewed last week by police over alleged break-ins, and the rifling of Mr Prescott's dustbins.

Mr Prescott complained the "vendetta" against him, stemming from local council in-fighting involving councillors suspended from the Labour Party, had now spread to his son.

Mr Prescott's son was also incensed by weekend reports of his alleged company dealings and this week will call on the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lord Wakeham, to intervene.

The Deputy Prime Minister said he believed there should have been a front page apology in the Sunday Times after its allegations last week that his son had profited from a sale of former council houses had been investigated by his Whitehall departmental auditors, who found no impropriety.

The Deputy Prime Minister met Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary watchdog, at Mr Prescott's Whitehall office on Wednesday to discuss whether he should have declared in the register of members' interests the receipt of pounds 27,500 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust in a blind trust to pay for party research into regional policy.

On the BBC's "Breakfast with Frost" programme, he told David Frost: "I have had a controversial life, I take my knocks like everybody else and I don't moan. I do get a bit annoyed when it gets near to the family," he said.

Mr Prescott `s aides contacted the Frost show on Saturday after being contacted at 2 pm on Saturday by the Sunday Mirror about allegations it published yesterday that a clothing company in which his son was a director had collapsed owing pounds 312,861 in tax.

He said it had happened four years ago, but his son was being targeted because his father was the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Independent exclusively reported on Saturday that the Sunday Times had used a reporter to infiltrate the Hull East constituency Labour Party to try to find stories about Mr Prescott. Letters, page 14