The Mark Thatcher Affair: Calls to publish 'bribery' report

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The Independent Online
THERE WERE fresh calls yesterday for the publication of a secret report into the Al- Yamamah deal after the revelations about Mark Thatcher's alleged involvement.

The report was prepared four years ago for the powerful House of Commons Public Accounts Committee after an investigation by the National Audit Office into rumours of bribes being paid to middlemen, but it was suppressed by the PAC chairman, Robert Sheldon.

Mr Sheldon, a senior Labour MP, and Sir Michael Shaw, the most senior Conservative on the committee, decided not to divulge details of the inquiry to other PAC members because they feared disclosure would result in cancellation of the arms deal with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. 'Our job was to ensure that there was no misuse of public money and we established that beyond all doubt,' Mr Sheldon said.

'However, we are only allowed to look within the department concerned - in this case the Ministry of Defence. We were not able to follow money outside the department so it is not for me to say what other bodies may or may not do. We have been calling for years for the power to do that.

'We did not publish because it may have caused embarrassment to a customer and caused a lot of unemployment. We found no evidence of wrongdoing at this end.'

Asked if Mr Thatcher featured in the unpublished report, Mr Sheldon said: 'Not at all.'

That was not enough, however, to satisfy Dr Kim Howells, also a Labour member, when the report was prepared. 'Unless the report is published, it will be seen as imputing the integrity of our civil servants; it will suggest there is something to hide,' he said.

'And if the allegations against Mark Thatcher are true, it would be absolutely outrageous. If they are not answered, they will be viewed as a can of worms waiting to blemish Margaret Thatcher's reputation even further.'

Alan Williams, a former deputy shadow Leader of the House and a member of the PAC, also called for publication of the report but went further, arguing that an inquiry should be set up into possible breaches of the Official Secrets Act. 'According to the Sunday Times report, Mark was useful because he could go to his mother with questions and come back with answers. What information could he possibly get that his backers couldn't? If they were official secrets, then I think we ought to find out.'

Sir Michael Shaw, now Lord Shaw of Northstead, who agreed to suppress the report with Mr Sheldon, said: 'We questioned ministry officials and the Comptroller and Auditor-General (Sir John Bourn) but there was absolutely no trace of bribery or corruption at our end.' He was unable to comment on the Saudi end of the deal.