An ugly scandal: Fox row gets personal

By Ian Dunt

Critics lashed out at the "innuendo" which dominated the media attack on Liam Fox today, as the row reached fever pitch.

Initial concerns over the role of Adam Werritty have become mixed up with questions around the defence secretary's private life, prompting anger across the political spectrum.

One story from the Sun newspaper, which raised questions about a 'young man' staying in Mr Fox's flat when it was burgled last year, caused outrage online, as Westminster figures suggested the press was moving from legitimate questions to smear and innuendo.

"Mail and Sun running disgusting 'nudge-nudge-wink-wink' stories about Fox," Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeted.

"Real questions for him [are] being obscured by nasty journalism."

Fellow Labour MP Tom Watson added: "I hope MPs will condemn The Sun for their disgusting Fox story.

"He has legitimate questions to answer. Who stays at his home is not one of them."

Tory MP Louise Mensche attacked media outlets for reporting the stories, asking: "Why are you sinking so low as to repeat worthless innuendo stories about Liam Fox that have nothing to do with his job?"

The Sun story claims that Tory press officers told the press there was no-one at the flat when it was burgled, contrary to later reports.

"As I told the police at the time, a friend was staying in the guest room. My wife was stranded in Hong Kong due to the ash cloud," Mr Fox said last night.

"For the sake of clarity, it wasn't Adam Werritty.

"I was a victim of a violent crime and I'm appalled at being portrayed as having something to hide. We're trying to establish why the media were given the impression I was alone."

Mr Fox cancelled a press conference he was due to attend in France today but is still making the trip.

Appearing on the Today programme this morning, Chris Grayling said: "I thought we had got past the point in politics though where we needed to worry about people's private lives. The question is somebody doing an important and capable job.

The minister, who managed Mr Fox's failed leadership bid in 2005, added: "I think this is certainly something where there is something of a ‘mass pursuit’ of Liam at the moment."

Meanwhile, questions were being raised about how Mr Werritty funded his various trips with Mr Fox, following an interview with civil servants yesterday.

Some reports suggest he was funded by private clients on an annual retainer for defence advice.