Blair cleared over charge of involvement in fundraising

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Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, has rejected a complaint from a backbench Tory MP that Tony Blair, the Labour leader, was personally involved in fund-raising for his office expenses.

The complaint, by David Shaw, MP for Dover, centred on a "blind" trust set up by the Labour Party to raise money from large-scale donors on the basis that their names would not be known to Mr Blair or any other senior party figures.

Mr Shaw argued that the trust was not "blind" in that Mr Blair had personally been trying to raise money by meeting potential donors at meals. He said that the identity of donors was known to the Labour leader.

However, yesterday, in a letter to Mr Shaw, Sir Gordon said that Mr Shaw's evidence "consisted only of newspaper or hearsay reports of what has allegedly been said to journalists". He concluded that "unless direct evidence is provided to support the allegation that Mr Blair has been personally involved in fund raising for the Labour Leader's Office Fund", he would tell the Commons Committee of Standards and Privileges that there was no case to answer.

Sir Gordon also took the unusual step of criticising the editor of the Sunday Times, John Witherow, who alleged, in an editorial last Sunday, that he was "prevaricating" over the investigation. Sir Gordon denies this and says "there is no truth in the suggestion that I failed to inform the committee of the provisional advice I had given to Mr Blair's office [about the blind trust]" or that he was criticised by the committee for having failed to provide the advice. Sir Gordon has asked the newspaper "to consider a correction".

He says, however, that the rules on contributions to the administrative expenses of both government and Opposition frontbenchers needs "to be codified".

The Labour campaigns spokesman Brian Wilson welcomed the decision: "We never had any doubt that this would be the outcome. The whole operation was a smear job by Mr Shaw, licensed by Tory Central Office."

Last Tuesday, Mr Shaw attempted to keep the issue going by tabling a further set of complaints to Sir Gordon about similar trusts run by the offices of the Labour frontbenchers John Prescott, Margaret Beckett, Gordon Brown and Robin Cook.