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No 10 'knew about hostage deal'

London Independent | April 15, 2007
Marie Woolf

Downing Street was told that the freed British hostages had made interview deals for money and were about to appear on television and in the press, according to senior Whitehall sources.

No 10 was tipped off before the interviews appeared but made no attempt to veto them. Whitehall sources said Downing Street was told "there's going to be these interviews".

Though the warning came after the deals had been agreed, the revelation will damage No 10's attempts to distance itself from the controversy.

Downing Street vehemently denied last week that it played any role in negotiating a deal or taking the decision relating to payments. It has given the impression it had no knowledge of the controversy until after the interviews appeared. Tony Blair has himself said that he did not know about the interviews until after the decision to give them took place. It is thought that the tip-off went to officials, not directly to Mr Blair.

Defence officials are understood to have told No 10 about the decision before the interviews appeared in the media. The tip-off did not lead to Downing Street trying to pull the interviews.

A Downing Street spokesman refused to comment yesterday and said the details would become clear when Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, makes a Commons statement tomorrow.

Mr Browne is under increasing pressure to resign after it emerged that Admiralty regulations indicated that it was for him to decide if personnel could sell their stories to the press.

The Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Adrian Johns, who is responsible for personnel issues in the Royal Navy, came forward early in the controversy to take responsibility for deciding to allow the former captives to sell their stories.

But one Whitehall source questioned whether he was personally responsible or whether a member of his staff made the decision.

The regulations say that the Secretary of State for Defence should personally approve decisions where personnel want to "express views on politically controversial issues"- a request that is usually refused.

They also say service personnel should not receive payment for media work carried out in the course of their duties.

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