Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, was accused of threatening and insulting a photographer yesterday as he continued to face unremitting pressure over the death of the weapons expert David Kelly.
Mr Hoon leapt out of his car at a junction, accused the man of harassment, and allegedly called him a "low-life scumbag". The photographer, Doug Mark, said Mr Hoon's Special Branch bodyguard later apologised, saying the minister was " under a lot of stress at the moment".
The confrontation happened near Mr Hoon's home at Brearton, a village in Nottinghamshire, 24 hours after the Defence Secretary was reduced to ashen-faced silence at a Foreign Office press conference by questioning about his role in identifying Dr Kelly. Mr Hoon will be a witness in the judicial inquiry by Lord Hutton into the circumstances that led to the naming of Dr Kelly, the source of the BBC story that Downing Street "sexed up" last September's Iraq weapons dossier.
The Ministry of Defence said the altercation was caused by Mr Hoon's worry that his children were being photographed. But Mr Mark, who works for a local agency, said: "I was not taking pictures of his family. I showed him the frame on the back of the camera to show it was only his photograph. I felt very threatened by Mr Hoon. He is a big man, at least four or five inches taller than me, and he was leaning into my face waving his car keys, calling me a scumbag, demanding my film. He appears to have totally lost it.
"I have often photographed politicians, but I have never faced this sort of behaviour. We are local photographers, not the paparazzi. Hoon's Special Branch minder did not make any effort to help him."Reuse content