Explain or be sued, victim tells Hodge

Andy McSmith
Sunday 16 November 2003 01:00

Margaret Hodge, the minister for children, is facing a deadline of 4pm tomorrow to avoid receiving a writ for libel from the former child abuse victim whom she described as "extremely disturbed".

Demetrius Panton is calling for a second apology from the minister, in the hope that he can find out why she used those words about him.

Mr Panton said yesterday that he had originally suspected that Mrs Hodge had based her opinion on something she had been told either by an official from the Islington Social Services department or one of the police officers who had investigated his complaint about being abused as a child in a home run by the council.

He is also demanding that she pay his costs and make a donation to charity.

"When the story broke, I knew that the remarks were untrue and that they were libellous. But sometimes people repeat something they have heard from someone else. My solicitors have asked her solicitors for an explanation, and Mrs Hodge hasn't offered me one.

"Unless I get an explanation, I can only assume she acted out of pure malice."

Mrs Hodge has been under pressure to resign since Tuesday when the comments she made in a private letter last September were broadcast on Radio 4'sToday programme. The BBC has not released the full text of the letter.Mrs Hodge's defenders point out that the abuse suffered by Mr Panton happened before she took on the leadership of Islington council in 1982.

However, her position as a minister was now "vulnerable", said Roy Hattersley, the former deputy leader of the Labour Party.

In an interview with GMTV, broadcast today, Lord Hattersley said: "She has to do ... things which many individuals would regard as such a humiliation as to be too great to endure, or at least too great to endure in office.It's perhaps a sign of her toughness, her resilience, her principles, that she wants to go on fighting ...but I think some people would find that easier to endure on the back benches."

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