Storm grows over role of British minister's aide

The future of British Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox hangs in the balance as film evidence appears to contradict his prior claims that close friend Adam Werritty was never present at formal meetings with overseas dignitaries.

The film shows that Fox's former flatmate, also best man at his wedding, met the President of Sri Lanka with Fox in a London hotel last year, despite having no role in government.

Yesterday the Prime Minister's office at No 10 Downing St stepped into the row. It ordered the initial findings of a Ministry of Defence inquiry into Werritty's role as a self-styled adviser to Fox be presented to David Cameron tomorrow. The inquiry was due to be completed in two weeks.

The storm engulfing Fox has grown since the Guardian last week revealed the extent of Werritty's closeness to Fox, and that he'd described himself as an adviser to the Defence Secretary on business cards, although he is not a government employee and has no security clearance.

"This man appears to have been involved in arms contracts all over the place," a senior defence ministry official said. "If he's been involved with less favourable regimes, even if they are perfectly legal, it would be hugely embarrassing for the minister."

Officials have also been told to investigate claims that Fox left civil servants and his security detail behind when he went to a meeting with Werritty and businessmen in Dubai.

The Independent also learned that Werritty, who has no official Whitehall security pass, may have been given the freedom to roam around Fox's private quarters at Admiralty Arch, where other ministers have apartments.

The Defence Secretary has strenuously denied 34-year-old Werritty was present at any official meetings with foreign dignitaries. But video and photographs appear to show Werritty shaking hands with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lankan TV news footage and press photographs show Werritty was apparently part of Fox's delegation at the meeting with Rajapaksa.

The footage seems to show Werritty shaking hands and bowing to Rajapaksa. Werritty is present as Fox discusses ongoing peace talks with the Tamil Tigers rebel group, according to Sri Lankan TV. The footage was handed to the Observer by Italian blogger Nomfup. Two separate sources have seen the footage and confirmed it is Werritty in the film.

The Guardian has revealed that Werritty brokered a meeting in Dubai that has left Fox possibly having to give evidence in a "blackmail" trial in the United States. Fox claimed defence industry representatives asked for the meeting that Werritty attended, "when they happened to be sitting at a nearby table in a restaurant".

The paper also claims Werritty was at a discussion about the possibility of providing British security-sensitive technology to Libyan rebels; that he's visited Fox at Ministry of Defence offices 14 times and hands out business cards saying he's "an adviser to the Rt Hon Dr Fox MP"; and that he ran a controversial charity from inside Fox's office in the Houses of Parliament.

Amid signs that support for Fox was ebbing away, Number 10's line was that it was still supportive of him.

But the fact that it has effectively ordered the inquiry to be speeded up shows its desperation to draw a line under the episode.

Sources have also said that the government investigation into Werritty's role will examine every foreign trip Fox has taken, both as Defence Secretary and before as the shadow minister, to discover if he was accompanied by Werritty and if he met foreign leaders.

Ministry of Defence sources suggest that the Sri Lanka meeting was a private engagement. Whitehall sources said the ministry appeared to be "99 per cent sure" it had never paid for Werritty's travel, but officials were trying to establish if there was any blurring of the lines that may have compromised Fox's position.

QUESTIONS THAT NEED ANSWERING

What was discussed at meetings where Adam Werritty was present?

Highly sensitive information could be valuable to the defence industry or threaten national security.

How many times has Werritty set up meetings with Liam Fox?

It seems unlikely that a Dubai meeting on June 16 was the only time he brokered talks with outsiders.

Did anyone raise concerns about Werritty's conduct?

If Fox ignored warnings it could be difficult to defend.

What access did Werritty have to Ministry of Defence documents, intelligence, staff and the minister's official residence?

He is not an employee and had not been security cleared.

What was in it for Werritty?

Any suggestion of financial gain would be fatal for Fox.

- OBSERVER, INDEPENDENT

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