Customs investigated the £15,000 jewellery that Cherie brought back from China trip

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister's wife is reported to have been forced to pay VAT and duty on the items, including pearls, worth around £15,000. It was claimed last week that Mrs Blair brought the pearls in Hong Kong on an official tour of the East Asia during which news of David Kelly's death first surfaced.

Downing Street dismissed the report as "wildly inaccurate" as it sought to protect Mrs Blair from more negative publicity connected with her shopping habits.

But last night it emerged that Customs had, in fact, looked into the question of unpaid duty on jewellery brought by the Prime Minister's wife in July 2003.

Although officially it decided to take no further action, it was reported that the decision was taken after Mrs Blair offered to pay VAT and duty on the goods retrospectively.

A statement said: "Customs inquired into the circumstances and, as far as they are concerned, there is nothing to investigate. On this occasion, the individual gave consent for their right of confidentiality to be waived."

Downing Street said: "We have no further commentto make."

The Mail on Sunday's obsession with the Prime Minister's occasional shopping sprees took on a bizarre twist last night as the tabloid claimed that the Blairs haggled for cheap suits with a Chinese tailor on the same trip.

It quoted Lawrence Wu, a local tailor, as saying that Mrs Blair forced down the price of several suits in a meeting with the couple in their hotel room.