Chaos: Secretary's confessions increase humiliation for Prescott and reeling Labour

The Deputy PM cavorting on the front pages, nurses booing Hewitt. How could it get any worse? Enter Max Clifford. By Marie Woolf
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Indy Politics

But the call Mr Schofield took on Tuesday from the Daily Mirror ensured his last week in government will be one he is unlikely to forget. Nor will his boss; after the week started badly, next week appears likely to get worse. Tracey Temple, Mr Prescott's secretary and one-time lover, spent yesterday with the public relations supremo Max Clifford. She had decided to sell her story for more than £100,000 to "set the record straight". She had been hurt, friends said, by the way she had been portrayed in the press.

The disclosures will make the initial revelations seem mild. Earlier, the Mirror had told Mr Schofield it planned to run a story the next day revealing lurid details of a two-year affair his boss had had with his diary secretary, Ms Temple, more than 20 years his junior, and 20 years a civil servant. Tense phone calls followed between Mr Schofield, the editor of the Mirror and journalists involved in the story. Mr Schofield learned that the paper had pictures and graphic details of a liaison which began at an office party in Whitehall in 2002 and continued with secret meetings at his elegant government flat above Whitehall.

When it became clear the newspaper would run the story, the Deputy Prime Minister headed to Downing Street to explain to the Prime Minister how he had cheated on his wife. "He went to see Tony face to face in the early afternoon and told him all the details," a senior Whitehall Source source said.

Mr Blair listened patiently and offered his support to his loyal deputy, insisting it was a personal matter. "There was no question of judging him," said one Downing Street insider. "This was a private issue. John has been very supportive and the Prime Minister was repaying that support."

The government spin-doctors were already beginning to worry that this was part of an orchestrated campaign to embarrass the Deputy Prime Minister, with the guiding hand of a PR guru behind it, and not just a fortuitous scoop by a tabloid newspaper. In fact, the details of the affair obtained by the Mirror were so explicit the paper did not publish many of them.

Under the banner headline "My Affair: By Prezza" the paper explained on its inside pages how Mr Prescott had cavorted with his "sexy" blonde secretary at an office party. The divorcee, who lives with a lorry driver, Barrie Williams, was said to have muttered Mr Prescott's name in her sleep during a passionate dream. Ms Temple's "heartbroken" boyfriend was stunned to hear her talk of her sexual fantasies about Mr Prescott while she was asleep.

Photographs of the two cavorting at his official Christmas party and him carrying his playful secretary in his arms left little to the imagination. At another party, Ms Temple was pictured undoing the Deputy Prime Minister's shirt. The paper also printed remarkable inside information including how Mr Prescott rubbed his hand up and down her back in the office and threw a bunch of grapes at her in the smoking room.

One of Ms Temple's colleagues said she had not been surprised about the affectionate way Mr Prescott behaved towards his secretary in public, since he was affectionate with many staff in his close-knit team. "He's just like that with people he works with. He can be very grumpy one day, but then can be quite fun sometimes. I've seen those party pictures and I was at some of the parties. That's just the way they go. I like Tracey, I think she's a great girl. She's so fun. We always knew he was fond of her."

The Deputy Prime Minister issued a curt statement in which he admitted having a relationship which "ended some time ago". But privately he was terrified of the effect it would have on his wife. When he told Pauline, with whom he celebrated his 43rd wedding anniversary only weeks before, she was "devastated".

As the Deputy Prime Minister headed back to his turreted home in Hull to try to repair his marriage, some of Mr Prescott's Labour colleagues revealed they were not shocked by the revelation that the Deputy Prime Minister had strayed.

The lovers had met at Admiralty House, the smart government flat provided for him at the top of Whitehall. One senior government figure who was often in the building at the time of the affair said: "You would be surprised who you see coming down in the lift in the morning."

In the febrile atmosphere at Westminster, Labour MPs gossiped about the prospect of further revelations about Mr Prescott's private life. One long-standing female friend of the Deputy Prime Minister was asked directly by one newspaper if she had had an affair with him. She denied it.

Several women living in the north of England, including a pensioner in Chester, were surprised to find photographers with long lenses camping on the pavement outside their doors. Mr Prescott, holed up in Hull with his wife and protection officers, was surrounded by journalists hoping for a glimpse of them through the net curtains.

Back in London, his office was bracing itself for further revelations about the sex life of the 67-year-old former merchant seaman after his aides learned his former mistress had contacted the PR supremo Max Clifford to help put her side of the story.

Ms Temple claimed she felt "betrayed and humiliated" as she prepared to sell her story for a six-figure sum to a tabloid newspaper. Her stepfather, John Amos, who lived with Ms Temple's mother Valerie at a £350,000 hillside villa overlooking the Cote d'Azur, insisted she was not behind the story breaking. "She's always had a very poor taste in boyfriends," he said. "It was nothing to do with her that this story came out in the first place, but she's been hung out to dry."

Opposition MPs began asking about the propriety of Mr Prescott entertaining his mistress at his luxurious retreat at Dorneywood, Buckinghamshire, and whether his decision to allow her to accompany him on Labour's election battle bus had broken codes of conduct.

While Westminster politicians joked about the pictures of Ms Temple unbuttoning Mr Prescott's shirt, Patricia Hewitt was being torn apart by nurses as she stood on the podium to deliver a speech at their annual conference.

The Secretary of State for Health, who had been jeered when she addressed the Unison conference days earlier, was repeatedly heckled and interrupted by an angry crowd of 2,000. Wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Keep nurses working, keep patients safe", nurse after nurse poured scorn on Ms Hewitt, who had provoked their wrath by claiming that the health service had enjoyed its best year yet.

Ironically, the Secretary of State had been using the offending phrase all week. But, confronted with her quote, Mrs Hewitt stumbled and appeared to lose control of the situation as nurses shouted "Rubbish", "Resign" and "Shame". In the worst barracking of a cabinet minister since Labour came to office, Ms Hewitt's speech was punctuated by boos from nurses who chanted "Enough, enough, enough" as she told them "a significant majority of staff got a pay rise".

Ms Hewitt had nearly not travelled to Bournemouth to address them. The Secretary of State had flu, and aides said she was "feeling terrible". One added: "She had the most appalling flu all week and she had been very shaky. We thought she might not be able to go but we took the view that it would be better if she did."

Ministers who watched the performance said privately that her delivery was "horrendous" and inappropriate to an angry crowd shocked by the prospect of redundancy. Mr Blair was quick to throw a protective arm around her, insisting she had his full confidence. The Prime Minister phoned Ms Hewitt that night to offer her his personal support.

Department of Health officials believe the RCN had made an "orchestrated" attempt to embarrass Ms Hewitt. The Government pointed the finger firmly at Beverly Malone, the highly paid RCN general secretary, who had emphasised the threat to nurses' jobs from NHS cuts.

In a tense phone call after Ms Hewitt returned to London, she told Ms Malone how angry she was. That seemed a minor upset compared with the prospect of reading the latest allegations in today's papers for Mr Prescott. It may, ultimately, prove equally damaging for his boss, Mr Blair.

Prescott Affair: Secretary to tell her side of the story

Tracey Temple, the secretary who had a two-year affair with John Prescott, is set to reveal her recollections of the relationship. She has sold her story to The Mail on Sunday for "an awful lot more" than £100,000, according to her publicist, Max Clifford. Her fee, some say, could be as high as £250,000.

Mr Clifford defended Ms Temple, 43, saying that "90 per cent" of what had been written about her in last week's newspapers was "rubbish". The story broke after Ms Temple's boyfriend heard her say "DPM" in her sleep - her nickname for the Deputy Prime Minister.