'Plot' to attack US ice skater

DETECTIVES in Detroit were last night trying to piece together the increasingly murky intrigue that now surrounds the attack on the US champion ice skater Nancy Kerrigan, following allegations that it was organised by the husband and bodyguard of her main American rival.

According to news reports, the bodyguard of the skater Tonya Harding has confessed that he and her husband were behind the assault, which happened in the run-up to last week's US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, the qualifying trials for the Winter Olympics in Norway.

Kerrigan, 24, a favourite for an Olympic gold medal, withdrew from the contest after being clubbed on the right leg during a practice session by a man wielding a metal baton, who escaped. Police found the weapon, a retractable police-issue baton, in a rubbish bin behind the ice rink. US selectors decided to give Kerrigan a place on the team even though she had been unable to perform. Harding went on to win the competition, earning her ticket to Norway next month.

The possibility the assault was something more than the work of a deranged fan came to light when the Portland Oregonian newspaper, quoting police sources, said that Harding's husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eric Eckardt, were involved.

NBC television then claimed the latter had confessed. Both the network and the newspaper were at pains to point out that there was no indication that Harding - who later complained about being cheated of a chance to compete against Kerrigan - knew anything about the alleged plot.

Although the details remain unclear, there was widespread speculation last night that the FBI was on the verge of making four arrests over the alleged conspiracy which, according to the Oregonian, involved a hired 'hit man' who agreed to attack Kerrigan for dollars 100,000 ( pounds 67,000).

The newspaper also claimed the assault had been arranged at the behest of Mr Gillooly, a 26-year-old employee of a state liquor control warehouse, whose marriage to Harding has been punctuated by disputes and court restraining orders. Asked about the allegations, Mr Gillooly responded: 'I wouldn't do that. I have more faith in my wife than to bump off her competition.'

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