Levy arrest ‘not just a gesture’

The police officer investigating the cash for honours scandal has insisted the arrest of Lord Levy yesterday was not just a symbolic act to show he was serious.

Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner John Yates told the public administration committee (PASC) that he was simply “following the evidence”.

This morning’s meeting came as Downing Street insisted Lord Levy would remain the prime minister’s chief fundraiser and that Tony Blair retained full confidence in the peer, who is a close personal friend.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, PASC chairman Tony Wright said Mr Yates was “very, very cross” at suggestions that Lord Levy had been arrested to try to prove to the committee that the police investigation was serious.

The MPs suspended their own inquiry into claims that political parties had offered peerages in return for loans and donations, after police warned it could prejudice the criminal investigation. However, they are keen to resume it.

“I came away from [the meeting] thinking there was a serious investigation going on, but I don’t think it was clear yet to any of the people involved whether it would lead to prosecutions or not,” Mr Wright said.

The Labour MP said he been told that the return of Lord Levy, Labour’s chief fundraiser and a close friend of Tony Blair, to a police station this morning was not significant.

The peer’s questioning yesterday under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 was apparently interrupted by a fire in the police station. He was subsequently bailed and told to return today.

Mr Yates also confirmed that both Labour and the Conservatives were under scrutiny in his investigations, and noted that more Tories had been interviewed so far.

There had been 13 interviews under caution carried out to date, 35 other interviews and three people had refused to be seen. Two submissions of evidence have already been made to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and another was due shortly.

Asked about his personal views on the cash for honours row, Mr Wright said it was “murky”, and whatever the outcome of the police investigation, “we’ve got to clear that up”.

He continued: “What’s happened is that you’ve had parties develop, under the pressure to secure large amounts, free-range fundraising operations which have had tenuous connections with official party structures and I think that has got to change.”