The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 14 December 2002

A speedy round-up of the week's news Ê

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The purchase by Miss Cherie Booth, Mrs Tony Blair, for a total of just over half a million pounds of two flats in Bristol, one for her son Euan to use when attending university, set off a lively game of hunt the issue. Someone called Mr Peter Foster was found to have acted on her behalf in the deal, and he turned out to be a convicted conman, specialising in unreliable slimming remedies and awaiting deportation to Australia; he exchanged many emails with Mrs Blair, one of his saying: 'Your pleasure is my purpose'. The Prime Minister's spokesman had earlier denied Mr Foster's part in buying the flats. He is the boyfriend of Miss Carole Caplin, who, it emerged, as Mrs Blair's 'lifestyle guru' interested her in ridding herself of 'toxins' in a shower. And then it was discovered that the flats had been acquired by the blind trust set up to administer the Blairs' assets independently. Mrs Blair made a televised statement in which she said she chose her friends with care and that 'Carole Caplin has been a trusted friend and support'. The government proposed a form of 'civil partnership' to allow couples of the same sex the same rights as married couples. In the trial for the murder of Damilola Taylor, evidence was withheld from the jury through judicial failings, and errors were made by the police, according to an inquiry chaired by the Rt Revd John Sentamu, the Bishop of Birmingham. Marks & Spencer persuaded Mr Vittorio Radice, the head of Selfridges, to join them. Cable and Wireless's debt rating at Moody's fell to Ba1, junk status, from A3 a month before. The government undertook to spend £183 million boring a tunnel for one and a third miles past Stonehenge, instead of £23 million on a cut-and-cover tunnel that had been opposed by the National Trust; some want a longer tunnel. Fire destroyed buildings in Cowgate, in the Old Town of Edinburgh, and was extinguished after many hours by 100 firemen. A dozen rival directory inquiries companies have been set up, with numbers ranging from 118000 to 118866. David Beckham, the footballer, had the name of his younger son, Romeo, tattooed on his back to go with Brooklyn, the name of his first son.

Iraq sent 43 volumes of documentation and 529 megabytes on 12 CD-rom discs to the United Nations to support its declaration that it has no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction. Spanish warships intercepted a North Korean ship carrying hidden Scud missiles, 600 miles away from the Horn of Africa. Israeli tanks and helicopters raided the Bureij camp in the Gaza Strip and killed ten Palestinians. Followers of the Basij militia, an Islamist group, broke up a protest meeting by students at the Amirkabir University in Tehran who seek a referendum on the political future of Iran. The Dutch internal intelligence service, the AIVD, said in a report that dozens of disenchanted young Muslims in Holland may have been recruited by al-Qa'eda and other militant Islamists. The United States announced it was to abandon a decade-old freeze on sales of arms to Algeria to help the government fight Islamist rebels. Singapore announced it was to abandon a decade-old ban on the import of chewing-gum, but it would be available only on prescription; Mr Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister, said: 'We can't allow gum to be imported and then people stick it on the floor or behind your chair and so on.' President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela sent troops to man petrol stations paralysed by a general strike. The third round of voting in elections for a president for Serbia was declared invalid because fewer than 50 per cent of electors voted; the Democratic Party of Serbia, which supports President Vojislav Kostunica of Yugoslavia, appealed to the courts against the declaration on the grounds that more voters were registered than existed. The singer Eminem was reunited with the wife he married in 1999; since then he has sung songs about killing her. A Japanese woman was sentenced to death for killing four and making 63 ill with curry poisoned with arsenic at a village festival at Wakayama in 1998. President George Bush of the United States and Mrs Bush sent a million Christmas cards, each bearing a 37 cent stamp.