Tory secrets were feared stolen today after burglars broke into Liam Fox’s flat and took his car, a laptop and mobile phone.
Party officials admitted that sensitive information about the Conservatives may have been held on the stolen computer, although they denied a claim that briefing papers for the leaders’ television debate had been taken.
Senior Tories ruled out political espionage, saying they believed the theft to have been the work of just “a couple of thugs”. David Cameron said he felt “very sorry for Liam”, having been burgled twice himself.
The burglars struck in the night by forcing open the front door of Mr Fox’s London home, part of a gated community near Tower Bridge. The shadow defence secretary was said to have been asleep in bed and to have heard nothing, discovering the break-in when he got up. His wife, Jesme, is away in Hong Kong, caught up in the Icelandic volcano air travel chaos.
Mr Fox, below, called police and was forced to cancel a press conference where he had been due to unveil a Tory mini manifesto on the welfare and equipment of soldiers in Afghanistan. It included a £5 million-a-year screening programme to check for combat stress and other mental health problems, a policy timed to coincide with tonight’s leader’s debate.
One rumour around Westminster was that the laptop contained plans for Mr Cameron to use in the debate. Mr Fox was due to drive to Bristol to be part of the leader’s team, because the theme is defence and foreign policy.
There was also speculation that confidential phone numbers of shadow cabinet members and military figures may have been in the mobile phone memory.
Campaigning in the West Country, Mr Cameron said: “I’m very sorry for Liam. I’ve been burgled a couple of times and it’s a horrible shock, the sense that someone has been into your house and taken your things. You feel completely invaded.
“I’m thinking, obviously, about him getting everything together and sorting all that out. I hope the police can find who did it but I’m sure Liam will want us to get on with the plan we have today for our armed forces manifesto.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said officers were called to the scene of the break-in at 7.20am today.
“The burglary squad from Southwark is investigating. No arrest has been made.”