Liam Fox's 18 meetings with controversial adviser on trips

Minister 'breached security guidelines' in dealings with defence consultant who joined him on visits to US, Sri Lanka and beyond

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Liam Fox's ministerial future was thrown into serious doubt last night after an official report uncovered new evidence of his personal and official links to his self-styled adviser and defence consultant, Adam Werritty.

Initial findings of a civil service inquiry into the Defence Secretary's professional dealings with Mr Werritty revealed that:

* Officials in Mr Fox's private office were ordered to provide details of his diary to Mr Werritty on several occasions after he became Secretary of State.

* Mr Werritty was present with Mr Fox on 18 separate foreign trips since he took office in May last year. These included official visits, conferences, mini-breaks and family holidays.

* On an official visit to the US, Mr Fox and Mr Werritty attended a "steakhouse dinner" with the then head of US Central Command, General John Allen.

* Mr Werritty met Mr Fox on an additional 22 occasions at the Ministry of Defence's headquarters in London – many times without officials present.

* On one occasion Mr Werritty attended a meeting with the new British ambassador to Israel and on another he organised a meeting at MoD headquarters with a Sri Lankan visitor.

It also emerged that Mr Fox instructed officials in his private office to write a briefing note on a technology which had been demonstrated to him at a controversial meeting in Dubai with a defence contractor organised by Mr Werritty.

That meeting had initially been facilitated by a lobbying firm paid thousands of pounds by the manufacturers of the technology. At the meeting, organised by Mr Werritty, no officials were present and no one in the Ministry of Defence knew it was taking place.

Last night the MoD released a list which revealed that, excluding trips to Afghanistan and Brussels, Mr Werritty was present at almost half of Mr Fox's foreign engagements, including the dinners with General Allen, who was about to take over from General David Petraeus as head of international forces in Afghanistan, and political leaders during the Herziliya conference in Israel in February this year where the British ambassador was also present.

On several occasions, the list shows, Mr Fox took days off abroad after finishing an official trip with Mr Werritty meeting up with him. In a sign of the seriousness of the new allegations, Downing Street announced a much wider investigation into Mr Werritty's activities to be overseen by the Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell. This will include a trawl of the Department's email archive for contacts between the two men and correspondence between Mr Werritty and Mr Fox's private office.

Last night, officials suggested that Ursula Brennan, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, would be interviewing Mr Werritty to establish whether he profited from his close links with Mr Fox. The minister has already conceded that Mr Werritty had "defence-related business interests" but the department has been unable to specify what these are. Downing Street conceded last night that he still had questions to answer. A spokesman said: "It is clear that serious mistakes were made in allowing the distinction between professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to be blurred – and this has clearly raised concerns about impropriety and potential conflicts of interest. Following these interim findings the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to work with the Permanent Secretary to complete the report, addressing all the remaining questions that have been raised by this issue."

Officials said that although the links between Mr Fox and Mr Werritty were known within the MoD , there was still surprise at the sheer extent of what was uncovered in just the brief inquiry carried out by Ms Brennan.

Officials say that Ms Brennan and her team were particularly concerned that Mr Fox had asked his private office to provide details of his diary to Mr Werritty on what appeared to be a regular basis in addition to providing the information, on other occasions, himself.

Mr Fox's aides have denied a report that Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, then Chief of Defence Staff, and Bill Jeffrey, at the time the most senior civil servant at the MoD, warned the Defence Secretary about his trips abroad with Mr Werritty. However, a senior officer said yesterday: "There was certainly talk that Jock had discreetly tried to warn off Fox but not much notice was taken." In a contrite statement, Mr Fox apologised for not being more transparent in his dealings with Mr Werritty but insisted at no stage was the relationship improper. Mr Werritty had no access to confidential information, he said, and did not profit personally through their connection. He said: "I accept with the benefit of hindsight that I should have taken greater care to ensure a more transparent separation of government, party political, and private business and that meetings were properly recorded to protect myself and Government from any suggestion of wrongdoing."

But Labour's shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said it was clear that Mr Fox had broken the ministerial code which states that "ministers must ensure that no conflict arises or could reasonably be perceived to arise between their public duties and private interests".

Fox and Werritty: the key allegations

Officials in Liam Fox's private office were ordered to provide details of his diary to Adam Werritty Ursula Brennan's report reveals that the Defence Secretary provided, or asked his office to provide, diary details to Mr Werritty, in connection with visits where Mr Werritty was intending to be present. Ms Brennan admits that this was "not appropriate". What is striking – given their later close relationship – is that when he came to power Mr Fox did not declare his connection with Mr Werritty (who had business defence interests) to Ms Brennan, as required under the ministerial code.

Mr Werritty was present with Mr Fox on 18 separate foreign trips since he took up office in May last year When Mr Fox revealed the extent of his foreign trips with Mr Werritty (it had been reported there were at least four), there were gasps on both sides of the Commons. Some of these, Mr Fox says, were purely personal trips but they will now be scrutinised to determine whether there was any conflict of interest.

Mr Werritty met Mr Fox on a further 22 occasions at the MoD's headquarters in London, including attending a meeting with the new British ambassador to Israel Yesterday, there was bemusement among senior MoD officials that Mr Werritty had been at a meeting between Mr Fox, right, and the then forthcoming British ambassador to Israel, believed to have been Matthew Gould, the first Jewish UK envoy to the country. He was going out at a sensitive time between the two states with the UK critical of Jewish settlements being built in Palestinian areas. Ms Brennan will need to establish why Mr Werritty was at the meeting, who agreed for him to be there and whether this was reported by the civil servants also in attendance.

Mr Fox instructed officials in his private office to write a briefing note on a technology that had been shown to him at a controversial meeting in Dubai It was known that Mr Werritty had set up a meeting for Mr Fox to meet executives from a defence contractor interested in providing the MoD with its voice-encryption software, Cellcrypt. It was also known that Mr Werritty had been introduced to the company by a firm of lobbyists who were being paid thousands of pounds to act on its behalf in a court case. The meeting, in Dubai, was attended by Mr Fox and Mr Werritty but did not include any officials, and no one from the MoD knew it was taking place. But what we didn't know until Mr Fox's statement yesterday is that when he arrived back in London, he asked officials in his private office to research a briefing paper on the technology – suggesting that the MoD might at some stage be interested in purchasing it. Last night, officials insisted they would have to go through normal procurement procedures which would not have involved Mr Fox in any way.

The meetings in full

The MoD record of all 40 meetings between Liam Fox and Adam Werritty:

20-21 May, 2010 Meetings at MoD.
4-6 June Security summit, Singapore.
7-8 June Dubai, "personal business".
11, 15 & 17 June Meetings at MoD.
3 July Informal dinner at a steakhouse in Tampa, Florida, with acting commander of US Central Command General John R Allen.
6-8 August Trip to Dubai.
1 September Meeting at MoD offices.
1, 12 &18 October Meetings at MoD offices.
20 October Meeting at MoD with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister.
3, 9 November Meetings at MoD offices.
1 December Meeting at MoD offices.
2-6 December Conference on geopolitics.
17-22 December Trip to Dubai to meet UAE government officials in a "personal/business capacity".
16 -23 January, 2011 Trip to Hong Kong.
1 February Meeting at MoD offices.
6-7 February Dinner in Tel Aviv.
17-21 February Skiing holiday, Switzerland.
16, 25 February Meeting at MoD offices.
1 March Meeting at MoD offices.
17 March Meeting at MoD offices.
24 March Meeting at MoD offices.
1 April Dubai trip in "private capacity".
14-18 April Trip to Abu Dhabi.
22-25 May
Washington visit.
31 May Trip to Hong Kong.
2-6 June Security summit, Singapore.
13 June Meeting at MoD offices.
14 June Meeting at MoD offices.
17-19 June Mr Fox meets Harvey Boulter, the head of an investment company with links to the MoD. Meeting arranged by Mr Werritty.
21 June Meeting at MoD offices.
8-10 July Trip to Sri Lanka. Werritty attended a public speech by Mr Fox.
31 July-3 August Trip to Washington.
5-9 August Mr Werritty joins Mr Fox while he is on leave in Spain.

Richard Hall