My conscience is entirely clear, minister says

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The Independent Online
DAVID MELLOR lived up to his reputation as a political fighter last night in a series of interviews in which he accused tabloid newspapers of trying to hound him out of office.

In an interview with BBC 2's Newsnight, Mr Mellor said of his affair with Antonia de Sancha: 'It was clearly reckless. People are entitled to say I was foolish.'

But he dismissed criticism of his decision to accept a free family holiday from Mona Bauwens, daughter of a high ranking PLO official, as 'outrageous' and stories about his meeting with Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi, as 'particularly disgraceful'.

He told Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight's presenter, that the de Sancha affair and the Bauwens libel case were an 'unfortunate conjunction' but most of what had been written about him and Ms de Sancha, including claims that he made love in his Chelsea football strip, was untrue, 'tarted up' by her publicist Max Clifford.

The implication of criticisms about his friendship with Mrs Bauwens seemed to be 'you cannot have a friend who is a Palestinian unless they want something'.

Questioned about Mrs Bauwens' father's position in the PLO, he said: 'The holiday was already going on when the invasion took place . . . Mona's father condemned the invasion of Kuwait.'

He insisted he had broken no parliamentary rules in allowing Mrs Bauwens to pay for the Mellor family's holiday in Marbella, there had been no error of judgement and there was nothing about the holiday that he would do differently. He was prepared to defend his position before Parliament.

'I am ready to give an account before anybody. The worse thing is to be tried by the tabloids.'

Earlier at an informal press reception, Mr Mellor said that he was prepared to resign if he was an embarrassment to the Government and said his future was 'in other people's hands'.

He said: 'From the moment that the story broke about Antonia de Sancha, I made it clear I was ready to resign. I was advised that my colleagues believed I should stay. And I got on with the job.

'Everything else in my life, every manhole cover, has been opened up and everyone has had a good sniff around. And anything that can be taken down and distorted and used in evidence against me has been. I have to accept if that changes people's minds, that is the world in which I live. I chose it . . .

'I am the servant of the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party. My conscience is entirely clear on this matter.

'I said right from the outset that if my remaining in the Government was an embarrassment to anyone, I would go, and that remains the position.

'I think it will be for people to decide whether I should be hounded out of office because it doesn't suit one or two tabloids that I remain in office or whether I should stay. I am perfectly serene about that judgement . . .

'I can think of plenty of other things I can do consistent with my duties as the MP for Putney which, whatever happens, I shall stick to, through thick and thin.'

Mr Mellor accused George Carman QC, counsel for the People in the Bauwens libel case, of traducing him. Mr Mellor said he was sorry he was not called to give evidence. 'I would have been only too happy to give an account of things. I think it was easier for Mr Carman to traduce me than to actually call me.

'He could have asked the questions and I could have given full answers instead of which the subpoena was used as a publicity device and when push came to shove, I wasn't called.'