Hoon on defensive as ski trip is criticised

Geoff Hoon was forced yesterday to defend his decision to spend the past week abroad on a skiing holiday with his family as thousands of troops had their leave cancelled in preparation for war.

The Defence Secretary, who came under fire after it emerged that he had taken the holiday in Chamonix, insisted he was in contact with his office while in the French Alps during the half-term break.

Mr Hoon, 49, said he had taken the chance to go away while MPs were away from the House of Commons.

"I spent a couple of days with my family away from home. I was in regular contact with the office as I always am," he told the BBC. "I think it is fair to say that this is the first day that I have had off ... including Saturdays or Sundays, since the Christmas recess."

He said he had decided it was in his children's interests to take the holiday "to spend some time with them".

Mr Hoon's decision to go on holiday has drawn unfavourable comparisons with Donald Rumsfeld, his American counterpart. Mr Rumsfeld, who is 70, is said to work an 18-hour day and rise at 5.30am to read intelligence reports.

But Mike O'Brien, a Foreign Office minister, defended Mr Hoon by saying that the Defence Secretary had been working 18-hour days and had three young children. He told Sky News's Sunday with Adam Boulton programme: "Be a little bit serious about this. This is, given the issues we are facing, tittle-tattle."

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