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Liam Fox’s friend set up crucial legal meeting

Adam Werritty organised talks over row with 3M on MRSA technology

Liam Fox relied on a close personal friend rather than his team of official advisers to broker a crucial meeting at the heart of an explosive legal battle involving the defence secretary, it has emerged.

A Guardian investigation into Fox’s role in an alleged threat to withdraw a knighthood from a businessman has revealed that Fox sought the advice of Adam Werritty, a long-term “friend” who ran a charity set up by Fox which was later suspended by regulators.

Werritty, who purports to be one of Fox’s official advisers but is not a government employee, organised a “private meeting” for Fox to discuss a highly explosive legal case that centres on life-saving MRSA technology the MoD and its private equity partner, Porton Capital, sold to 3M, the US Post-it note maker.

Fox has repeatedly denied that he was personally involved in the case but he faces the embarrassment of being forced to give evidence about allegations of blackmail in a US court.

Werritty, who has been a close friend of Fox’s for years and was once a housemate, told Harvey Boulter, the boss of Porton Capital, that Fox would meet him at an upmarket hotel in Dubai to discuss the legal battle with 3M.

The MoD, which has already been forced into one embarrassing U-turn over this case, had claimed Fox and Boulter met to discuss an “entirely different matter”.

But email correspondence between Werritty and Boulter shows that the MRSA technology, called Acolyte, was on the agenda for the meeting at the five-star Shangri-La hotel in Dubai in June.

Werritty emailed Boulter in April saying: “Very good meeting with you in Dubai. Thanks for passing along the below along with the e-info on the two issues [one issue was Acolyte; the other was a mobile phone encryption service developed by one of Boulter's companies] we discussed. Please leave this with me to push along as discussed.”

A month later Werritty emailed Boulter again to say he had passed on Boulter’s concerns about the Acolyte case to Fox’s special advisers, and said: “I’d hope they’d want to make an issue out of this.”

On the day of the meeting Werritty emailed saying: “Morning Harvey. He’d [Fox] prefer to have it here [at the Shangri-La]. Let’s meet on the 41st floor lounge.”

Witnesses to the 16 June meeting claim Boulter informed Fox about the progress of the legal battle, to which the defence secretary is said to have replied: “I’m sure you’re handling this [the case] in the best way possible.” Fox’s spokesman refused to confirm or deny this statement.

Just hours after the meeting, Boulter fired off an email to 3M’s lawyers. It said: “I had a 45-minute meeting with Dr Liam Fox, the British defence minister on our current favourite topic … As a result of my meeting [with Fox] today you ought to know that David Cameron’s cabinet might very shortly be discussing the rather embarrassing situation of George’s [George Buckley, 3M's chief executive] knighthood.”

Boulter suggested that a settlement “at a headline of m+ will allow MoD to internally save face”.

As a result of the meeting Fox now faces the threat of being forced to give evidence in a US court, after 3M launched a blackmail lawsuit.

The MoD confirmed that Werritty, who distributes House of Commons business cards that describe him as “advisor to Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP”, was not a government employee. The ministry said: “Adam Werritty is not an MoD employee, he is a friend of the secretary of state”.

The MoD said no government officials were present at the 16 June meeting and no minutes were taken, which is against protocol. Although no records were kept, the spokesman said: “Dr Fox did not enter into a discussion about this in any respect and at no point raised or discussed the issue of a knighthood.”

Werritty ran a charity which Fox founded but which was later suspended by regulators. Fox installed Werritty as the executive director and sole employee of the Atlantic Bridge, a charity closely linked to US neo-conservatives and funded by Michael Hintze, the hedge fund billionaire and big Conservative party donor.

Last summer the Charity Commission said Atlantic Bridge’s “current activities must cease immediately”. The commission said the charity’s primary objective appeared to be “promoting a political policy [that] is closely associated with the Conservative party”.

“The activities of the charity have not furthered any of its other charitable purposes in any way,” the commission’s investigation report said last July.

Members of the charity’s advisory board have included George Osborne, William Hague and Michael Gove. Baroness Thatcher was honorary patron.

Werritty is believed to be the charity’s sole member of staff.

The charity’s annual report shows it paid its sole staff member £37,151 in 2009 and £15,222 in 2010. Unnamed consultants were paid a total of £63,738 in 2009 and 2010. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds