Blair Won't Rule Out Nixing Clarke Support
Apr. 29, 2006
LONDON (AP) _ Prime Minister Tony Blair said he still backs his embattled home secretary but would not rule out changing his mind if any foreign former prisoners are found to have committed serious crimes after being released from jail.
Blair said in an interview published in Sunday editions of the News of the World newspaper that there were ``no excuses'' for the government's failure to properly consider deportation for 1,023 prisoners before freeing them over the past seven years.
The releases have created a political furor since Home Secretary Charles Clarke disclosed them last week. Clarke said Friday that five of the prisoners had been convicted of drug and violent crimes since being freed.
Blair told the News of the World he believed Clarke should stay in his job to fix his department's problems but would not rule out changing his mind if one of those released was found to have committed a serious crime, the newspaper said.
``I don't think I'm going to speculate,'' it quoted the prime minister as saying. ``It depends on what happens, what the reasons are.''
Blair's office did not dispute the accuracy of the quotation but said it did not represent ``the spirit of what he said.'' The prime minister fully supports Clarke and wants to keep him in his job, according to his office.
The report came during a disastrous few days for Blair's government _ Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott acknowledged an extramarital affair and Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt was booed by a roomful of nurses during a speech on layoffs.
British Defense Secretary John Reid also said Saturday that police had found a small amount of cannabis resin in a guest room during a routine security check on his Scottish home, but he had no idea where it came from.
``There is absolutely no suggestion that this in any way involves me or members of my family and both I and the Strathclyde Police regard the matter as closed,'' Reid said in a statement.
Strathclyde Police confirmed that just under half an ounce of the marijuana derivative had been found at a house in southern Scotland. The force said police had completed their investigation and no one had been charged with a crime.
The series of troubles could damage the fortunes of Blair's Labour Party in Thursday's local elections, its biggest electoral test before the next national vote expected in 2009.