Tory supporter tried to place smears in Jersey newspaper

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The Independent Online
A CONSERVATIVE Party supporter attempted during the election campaign to place unsubstantiated sex scandal allegations, almost certainly about Paddy Ashdown, in a Channel Island newspaper that is not covered by injunctions from the London courts.

The Jersey Evening Post said yesterday that it was offered smears by a caller with a good knowledge of the obscure workings of the island's autonomous legal system.

The Jersey paper's account tallies with the statement by the Independent's Conservative Party source (see article above) that there were plans to 'float' smears about Conservative opponents, if necessary in newspapers or magazines outside the judisdiction of the British courts.

Hamish Marett-Crosby, political correspondent of the Jersey Evening Post, said that the paper was tentatively asked 'whether it would be interested in publishing details about the sexual peccadilloes of a prominent politician'.

The caller was from Taunton in Somerset, the neighbouring constituency to Paddy Ashdown's Yeovil seat, and said it concerned incidents 'in London and round here'. He telephoned at the end of March, about the time the unnamed Cabinet minster was offering smears on Mr Ashdown to the Sun newspaper.

A puzzled Mr Marett-Crosby asked why the island paper, with pages almost entirely devoted to local news, was being contacted. 'He told me that he knew that the law in Jersey was different from the mainland and it was not so easy to gag us.'

Jersey makes its own laws and has a separate judicial system run by its Royal Courts. Orders from the High Court in London have no weight on the island.

Mr Marett-Crosby asked the caller whether he was selling information. 'He made it quite clear he was not and trying instead to help the Conservative cause. He said, 'Oh no, this is entirely political. Let's just say that I'm not a Liberal or a Labour supporter'.'

The Jersey Evening Post had no interest in hearing or printing unsubstantiated dirt on a mainland politician and let the matter drop.

Meanwhile, German journalists were baffled yesterday by the repeated suggestion before the election that smears about Mr Ashdown, which the British press knew to be unsubstantiated, would appear in German or US newspapers.

The Independent's sources said that the plan was to give the British press something to report by forcing Mr Ashdown to get an injunction in London to prevent the smear being repeated.

The Sun, in its enigmatic report of 3 April, also claimed that there were rumours about a politician having affairs spreading from 'Whitehall to Germany'.

But a spokesman for Bild, the mass-circulation German newspaper, said that the idea that a story could be planted in Germany was absurd. Der Spiegel and Stern, the two German news magazines, said the same.

One journalist added: 'To put it bluntly, who in Germany would give a damn about Paddy Ashdown? The German press does not print these kind of stories about German politicians, let alone foreigners. If anyone had approached us or any other newspaper or magazine, the reporter would have shrugged his shoulders and put the phone down.'