Former Defence Secretary Fox broke ministerial code

LONDON Tue Oct 18, 2011 6:12pm BST

In this file picture, Defence Secretary Liam Fox leaves his residence in central London October 13, 2011. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

In this file picture, Defence Secretary Liam Fox leaves his residence in central London October 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

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LONDON (Reuters) - Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox broke the ministerial code of conduct over his close friendship with a businessman who falsely claimed to be his official adviser, a government report said on Tuesday.

The report found that Fox, who oversaw British military operations in Libya and Afghanistan before resigning on Friday, broke the rules but did not gain financially from the arrangement.

"Doctor Fox has already accepted that his actions and judgement fell short of the standards of conduct required in the ministerial code and the evidence in this report supports the conclusion of a clear breach of the ministerial code," the report said.

"I have found no evidence that Doctor Fox gained financially in any way from this relationship," the report continued.

Fox, 50, quit his post after a slew of media stories about his relationship with his former flatmate and best man Adam Werritty, who met Fox at the defence ministry and on trips abroad at least 40 times in the last 18 months.

Werritty had no official government role, security clearance or obvious income, and the government had asked its most senior servant Gus O'Donnell to look into Fox's conduct.

A statement from Prime Minister David Cameron's office said he agreed with the report and confirmed Fox had clearly broken ministerial rules. Cameron also said he accepted O'Donnell's recommendations for tightening the rules governing ministerial behaviour.

The cabinet secretary's report suggested Fox was right to step down as he failed to avoid a conflict of interest, or the perception of any conflict, between his public duties and private interests.

Fox has since been replaced by former Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

"I accept that it was a mistake to allow the distinctions between government and private roles to become blurred, and I must take my share of the responsibility for this," Fox said.

The report did not answer questions on how Werritty funded his business activities and whether he benefited from frequent access to the former defence secretary.

In his report, O'Donnell said many questions had arisen regarding Fox's conduct that "will be the responsibility of others to answer," including the electoral funding watchdog.

Police said on Sunday they would consider a fraud investigation against Werritty.

O'Donnell's recommendations for tightening ministerial rules included making clear who is, and who is not, part of ministerial parties during official visits, and that the top civil servant in any ministry should regularly discuss with ministers their relationships with acquaintances or advisers.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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