Monday, 30 June 2008

Watching the detectives

It's five months since Peter Hain resigned from Gordon Brown's Cabinet "to clear his name" over allegations that he failed to declare donations to his deputy leadership campaign.

Since then former aides to the former Welsh Secretary have been interviewed by detectives during a long-running inquiry. Today's Times reports that the Neath MP himself has now been questioned by police.

This would indictate the inquiry is nearing its end before the police pass on a file to the Crown Prosecution Service. Scotland Yard will not confirm or deny the report as they don't comment on continuing inquiries. They do say no arrests have been made.

Mr Hain has refused to comment on The Times report, which he believes contains several falsities. He remains thoroughly fed up with continuing media coverage of the affair, although a media-savvy operator like him should perhaps realise that an MP being interviewed by police remains a news story - as his old boss Tony Blair could confirm - rather than "media spin".

The Neath MP has overcome far tougher times than this, as a youth during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and being falsely accused of stealing money from a bank as a young man in a plot to frame him. Yet friends have been surprised by the way the donations affair has darkened his outlook.

No-one who has worked Peter Hain believes he acted dishonestly and Mr Hain has admitted an "honest mistake" in failing to register more than £100,000 of donations to his deputy leadership campaign. He told a Channel 4 documentary that both he and Gordon Brown were astonished that a Labour Government passed a law that made the candidate personally accountable for legally registering donations.

Members of the Hain campaign believe others were directly responsible for registering donations. I reported in January how campaign manager Steve Morgan, who had claimed to bring order to chaos, had apparently failed to register a donation from himself.

Will Peter Hain be charged? No-one knows but these inquiries usually end with an announcement that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute.

It will do little to lighten his mood but the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

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