Tory chairman accused of running dirty tricks campaign while minister

Cabinet Office refuses to hand over documents relating to altered letter from Lord O'Donnell

Grant Shapps has been accused of being at the centre of a "cover-up" over attempts to smear Lord Prescott, after the Cabinet Office refused to release key correspondence from the Tory chairman's former department.

While he was housing minister, Mr Shapps repeatedly accused Lord Prescott of having a "cavalier attitude to the public purse", releasing details of bills run up on the former Labour deputy prime minister's departmental credit card.

But a letter sent last year by Lord O'Donnell, the then head of the Civil Service, clearing Lord Prescott was substantially altered after contact from Mr Shapps' Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Cabinet Office has now blocked Lord Prescott's attempts to get hold of exchanges that led to the alterations, ruling that publication is "not in the public interest".

A month before he resigned as Cabinet Secretary, Lord O'Donnell reviewed the row and wrote to Lord Prescott telling him "the expenditure appears to have been legitimate".

However Lord O'Donnell's letter, sent initially on 18 November, was subsequently altered and resent four days later. Claims in the initial letter that "money has been recovered and an individual disciplined", as well as an apology that Lord Prescott was not notified in advance by Mr Shapps of his allegations, were omitted.

Lord Prescott told The Independent yesterday that he believed the second letter was sent without the knowledge of Lord O'Donnell, after representations from officials in Mr Shapps' former department.

"This is a remarkable government cover-up. Altering letters from the most powerful civil servant in the land without his permission or knowledge is a very, very serious offence," he said. It was an "astounding judgement", he said, that "uncovering who was responsible for this was not in the public interest".

Lord Prescott is demanding that the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, intervenes and forces the Cabinet Office to publish its correspondence with DCLG officials. Aides to Mr Shapps insist they did not contact the Cabinet Office to request that the O'Donnell letter be altered.

The publicity generated by Mr Shapps' accusations, many made under the protection of parliamentary privilege, have damaged Lord Prescott's attempt to win November's election for Humberside's police and crime commissioner.

Among the "evidence of excess" were transactions for restaurant bills in Australia, Ireland, Malaysia, the United States and Canada. However, a fraudulently cloned government credit card accounted for £2000 of the bills. In October, Lord Prescott told the Cabinet Office he had never owned a government credit card and accused Mr Shapps of deliberately peddling false accusations as part of an orchestrated "dirty tricks" campaign.

The accusations are the latest problem facing Mr Shapps, who was promoted to Tory co-chairman in the autumn reshuffle but has faced questions about his business interests.

He has also admitted that he used pseudonyms including "Michael Green" and "Sebastian Fox" in the operation of an online "how to" internet company that he started before he became an MP and which is now run by his wife Belinda.

Following accusations by the Labour MP Steve McCabe that the Tory Party was being run by someone with "multiple personalities and questionable business practices", Mr Shapps told Sky News yesterday that he was not living a "double life" and that like many authors he simply "wrote under a business name".

He said he had stopped using the alter-egos "a long time ago".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tv'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there