'She won't give up on him as long as she draws breath'

Lady Thatcher defends son
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Indy Politics

It was a "distressed" Baroness Thatcher who spoke to her troubled son on Friday. Anticipating the media scrum outside her Belgravia home, the former prime minister was surrounded by no fewer than five bodyguards as she arrived back from a break in America.

It was a "distressed" Baroness Thatcher who spoke to her troubled son on Friday. Anticipating the media scrum outside her Belgravia home, the former prime minister was surrounded by no fewer than five bodyguards as she arrived back from a break in America.

No less protection is being afforded by Lady Thatcher's inner circle of advisers and friends, who are doing their best to shield her from the glare of the world's media.

Friends feared that she would not recover from the trauma of losing her husband, Sir Denis, last year. A series of minor strokes had already forced a retreat from public life, and for a time they feared the worst. But the 25th anniversary in May of her first election triumph in 1979 seemed to dispel the worries as she attended a series of celebratory dinners. With the arrest of her son on suspicion of helping to fund an alleged coup, however, another serious decline threatens. One former aide said that the prospect of Sir Mark's disgrace would be "an agony" for her, but added that Lady Thatcher would be galvanised by the desire to defend her son.

"You have to bear in mind the family dynamics," he said. "She was always much closer to Mark than was Denis. She won't give up on him as long as she still draws breath."

The speed and efficiency with which friends such as Lord Bell have rallied around Lady Thatcher's son was a notable feature of the week's events. The Thatcher camp moved up a gear this weekend, effectively accusing the South African police and government of Equatorial Guinea of mounting a dirty-tricks campaign to guarantee publicity for a "trumped-up claim of a foreign-backed coup".

Her well-known ability to rise to a challenge could ensure that Lady Thatcher is not overwhelmed by the week's events.

It was reported this weekend that Sir Mark is to face his inquisitors alone in Cape Town. Aides say Lady Thatcher has no plans to fly to his side. His American wife, Diane Burgdorf, has decided to stick with plans to settle the couple's children into new schools in Texas. The couple, who married in 1987, had a trial separation in the 1990s following marriage difficulties, but were reconciled and moved to South Africa in 1996.

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