British diplomats suspended after Warsaw bust-up with Canadians

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Indy Politics

A recent audit of Canada's eye-catching embassy in Warsaw concluded that the mission's plush bar proved valuable in "promoting team spirit".

Unfortunately, when British officials were invited to advance Anglo-Canadian relations over a drink, the sense of international warmth seems to have evaporated.

Three Home Office officials, understood to have been from the visa department of the British embassy in the Polish capital, have been suspended pending an investigation into an altercation in the Canadian mission's "Beaver Club", a swish drinking space designed for civilised discussion of diplomatic affairs.

Quite what took place in the embassy – a three-storey modernist construction in French limestone and aluminium which won architectural awards when it opened in 2001 – remained shrouded in inter-governmental niceties last night. Canadian officials declining to comment on "conversations between states".

But whatever happened, it was sufficient to prompt a formal complaint from the Canadian ambassador to Poland, Daniel Costello, to his British counterpart. A source told The Independent: "It would be fair to say that the Canadian side made their displeasure clear."

The Beaver Club, apparently named after an 18th-century Montreal bar set up by early European traders to Canada, is thought to be a favoured watering-hole on Warsaw's diplomatic circuit. Situated next to the Polish parliament, it is less than half a mile from the British embassy.

An internal audit by the Canadian foreign affairs ministry in 2008 praised the bar as a venue for social and business events but noted: "There is a need to tighten controls over the club's inventory. Stock counts are not being done and the stock is located in various locations around the chancery."

Embassy officials were yesterday maintaining what could only be described as a diplomatic silence about the incident, which took place in February. In a statement, it said: "We will not comment on the issue."

The Home Office was similarly discreet. A spokeswoman said: "An internal staff investigation was conducted following an incident in February. It would be inappropriate to discuss the investigation in detail while we are considering how to implement its findings."

The altercation is the latest in a glorious line of scrapes and indiscretions involving Britain's envoys abroad, occasionally while the worst for wear. Craig Murray, the colourful ambassador to the autocratic central Asian state of Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004, endeared himself to local democracy campaigners by highlighting the regime's alleged penchant for boiling its opponents alive.

But the personal life of Mr Murray, who described himself as a "boozed-up, randy Scot", led to a succession of lurid headlines. He separated from his wife after starting a relationship with a belly-dancer he met in a nightclub in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. She is now his second wife.

Mr Murray was removed from his post after the Foreign Office levelled 18 misconduct charges against him, including a claim that he drove his official car down a flight of stairs. He was eventually exonerated and resigned from the Foreign Office, which offered him compensation of six years' salary.