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UK's defense minister apologizes over access row
Career of Britain's defense minister in balance amid questions over friend's role
By The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) ' Britain's defense minister will have time to defend himself over claims he broke rules in his dealings with a close friend who worked as an industry consultant, Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday.

Defense Secretary Liam Fox is alleged to have acted inappropriately in allowing his former flatmate and best man Adam Werritty, who has worked as a defense consultant, access to Britain's defense ministry buildings and to overseas visits.

Fox, who last week insisted allegations against him were "baseless," told lawmakers that Werritty had visited the defense ministry on 22 occasions over the last 16 months and had been present during 18 trips overseas.

He previously told an opposition lawmaker that Werritty had not traveled on official trips overseas, but told the House of Commons that his friend had dropped by during a number of visits.

"I accept that it was a mistake to allow the distinction to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to a friend," Fox told the House of Commons in a statement.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded to know whether Werritty, who previously ran a now-defunct defense consultancy called Security Futures, profited from his ties to Fox.

Last week Fox told Ursula Brennan, the most senior civil servant in the defense ministry, to investigate the claims against him and produce a report by Oct. 21.

In interim findings provided to Cameron's office on Monday, Brennan said Fox had acknowledged it had been wrong for his officials to provide Werritty with details of visits overseas ' usually regarded as sensitive information because of the security implications.

Brennan said that, in the future, Fox's ministry and other departments need "to ensure that a clear distinction is made between party political, personal and government business."

Cameron must eventually decide whether Fox breached Britain's ministerial code, and rule on whether any action is necessary.

Under standards rules, ministers are expected to make sure "that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests."

Following a speech in central London, Cameron hinted that Fox is likely to continue in his current role.

"He said he has made a mistake, he has got something wrong. He has apologized about that," said Cameron, who discussed the issue with Fox in a phone call on Sunday.

"I am sure that we can answer these questions and come through beyond it," he added. "We are not rushing these things."

Fox told legislators that Werritty had never been given access to classified documents, or briefed on national security issues.

Cameron's spokesman, Steve Field, said a final decision on Fox's future would likely take several days.

"Our objective here is to establish the facts and what we are going to do is establish the facts before we draw any conclusions," he said.

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