Sunday, March 05, 2006


By Ian Kirby, Keith Gladdis and Ryan Sabey

FUROUS Tessa Jowell kicked out her husband after a row over him using her links to Tony Blair in a series of dodgy business deals.

The News of the World can reveal the Culture Secretary ACCUSED hubby David Mills of cashing in on her government position and INSISTED on a split.

But last night many MPs, including her own Labour colleagues, dismissed the move as a callous and cynical bid to save her career.

The separation after 27 years of marriage was announced yesterday after two weeks of intense scrutiny into Mills's murky business dealings.

In a statement his solicitor said: "This whole business has imposed a dreadful strain on my client and his marriage. They hope over time their relationship can be restored, but, given the current circumstances, they've agreed to a period of separation."

But we can reveal the final straw was a letter Mills sent to authorities in Dubai where he wanted to be allowed to work as a lawyer. It read:

"You will know I am married to a member of the Cabinet of this country. I have the support and sympathy of very many people in public life, from the Prime Minister down."

When the details became clear on Thursday Ms Jowell, 58, hit the roof. A close friend and colleague revealed: "She was furious that she was reading things in the newspapers that she did not know. The letter brought everything to a head—there has now been a breakdown of trust.

"They love each other very much but for the moment they cannot stay together."

After a huge bust-up the Culture Secretary and her husband spent Friday planning the separation, before she left their London home holding newborn grandchild Lola in the late afternoon.

She informed Prime Minister Tony Blair of her decision and he is understood to have given her his private support in an emotional phone call.

But last night many Labour MPs were suspicious of the motives behind the split, claiming it was too "convenient" for Ms Jowell.

One colleague accused Ms Jowell of causing a "media circus" with the separation. Another branded it a "ridiculous stunt". A third Labour MP said the split "might give her 48 hours but won't save her job". But an MP close to Chancellor Gordon Brown said: "I smell Alastair." He was referring to Mr Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who famously told Robin Cook to split from then wife Margaret in an airport as the News of the World was about to expose his affair.

Meanwhile, Mills, 60, left the family home in Kentish Town, north London, early yesterday morning, and was believed to be heading abroad.

Another friend of the couple said: "Tessa's felt pulverised by everything she has discovered this week and thinks the split is the only way forward.

"David didn't want it. At the moment he is a man fighting to save his reputation and his marriage."

Mills, a corporate lawyer, is still facing accusations in Italy that he received a £350,000 bribe in 1999 from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over evidence he gave in a court case against him—a claim he denies.

He will find out on Tuesday if he will stand trial in Milan. Ms Jowell was dragged into the affair after it was disclosed that she had signed papers for a loan secured on their London home which was subsequently paid off with the help of the £350,000.

Later it was revealed that there have been FIVE loans taken out on their London home and FOUR on their country house in Warwickshire in an astonishing mortgage-go-round. All but two have been repaid.

The couple are also believed to be under increasing financial pressure.

It had been thought Mr Mills was a multi-millionaire but his assets were valued at £470,000 last year and both the couple's homes are now mortgaged.

A probe by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell found Ms Jowell SHOULD have declared the £350,000 once she found out about it—which Mr Mills said came from a Naples shipowner. Tony Blair, however, accepted her explanation that she was only told by her husband about the money four years later.

Alastair Campbell last night denied he had played any role in advising the couple about their break-up.

He said: "David and Tessa have been good friends of ours for many years and we are obviously very saddened. First I knew was when David told me yesterday."

Ms Jowell's parliamentary private secretary Huw Irranca-Davies insisted that she would be back at work in Westminster as normal on Monday.

He dismissed as "cynical spin" suggestions that the split was simply a "career-saving move".

"This is a horrendous decision for anybody," he said.

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