Suspicious package leads to suspension of Commons

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Indy Politics

A House of of Commons sitting was suspended for an hour yesterday after the discovery of a package containing white powder raised fears of an anthrax attack.

A House of of Commons sitting was suspended for an hour yesterday after the discovery of a package containing white powder raised fears of an anthrax attack.

And parts of the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence offices in Whitehall were evacuated later after suspect letters were found.

The television news organisation ITN was also hit by an anthrax scare, with the finance department in London undergoing decontamination.

The series of security alerts in Westminster follow the exposure of more than 30 employees at Capitol Hill in Washington to anthrax.

MPs were told that a backbench debate due to start at 9.30am was being put back by an hour while the package was being investigated.

Parliamentary staff were told in a message on Commons monitors: "Mail alert. Several suspect envelopes received. If in any doubt do not open mail." A police spokesman said the package was being tested. He added: "Nobody is exhibiting any ill effects."

A second package to the Commons was also investigated, but turned out to be a hoax.

Checks on mail delivered to Parliament and Whitehall offices have been stepped up since the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has drawn up plans for prison sentences of up to seven years for people who spark false anthrax alerts. He said: "The actions of hoaxers are causing distress and perpetuating fear around the country."

Britain has been hit by several anthrax alerts, including false alarms at post offices in Liverpool and Birmingham.

At ITN a member of staff in the finance department, which is opposite the main building in Gray's Inn Road, opened a letter containing white powder yesterday morning.

A spokesman said: "We immediately contacted the authorities, who have acted with speed and efficiency. The area is now being decontaminated while we await test results."

* A 50-year-old man appeared in court yesterday charged with sending a letter to the First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly, Rhodri Morgan, containing white powder, which caused an anthrax scare.

Nicholas Roberts, of Riverside, Cardiff, also sent letters containing the same white powder, which was later discovered to be flour, to the author Jan Morris and two people said to be friends of his, Alun Griffiths and Andrew Bignall, Cardiff magistrates' court was told.

Mr Roberts is accused of sending four letters with intent to cause distress or anxiety on Wednesday. He was remanded in custody until 25 October.

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