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Straw launches inquiry into Muslim MP bugging case

Paper claims visiting room wired for sound

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Justice Minister Jack Straw has ordered an inquiry over allegations that the security services bugged a British MP visting a constituent in prison.

Scotland Yard anti-terrorist police allegedly bugged Sadiq Khan, a government whip and Labour MP for Tooting as well as parliamentary private secretary to Straw, when he met a man in prison who faces deportation to the US on terrorism charges. Listening devices allegedly planted in a table at Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes were used to record conversations between Khan and his constituent Babar Ahmad on two occasions in 2005 and 2006, the Sunday Times reports.

Ahmed was accused of running websites supporting terrorism and fund raising for Muslim militants in Chechnya and Afghanistan. Former human rights lawyer Khan is one of Britain's few Muslim MPs, a factor that has fuelled controversy over the alleged surveillance operation.

Khan is a veteran civil liberties campaigner, and a former chairman of Liberty. He is also, according to reports, a childhood friend of Ahmad.

The Sunday Times claimed that at least six tables in the visiting room at the prison had been fitted with listening equipment. The terrorist squad had specifically requested that Khan be bugged when they realised he would be vising Ahmad, the paper claimed.

The security services have prohibited eavesdropping on politicians since a bugging scandal in the 1970s under the so-called "Wilson Convention".

Shadow Home secretary David Davis claims he warned the prime minister that a Labour MP had been bugged last month. However, Gordon Brown denies receiving any such message. Opposition MPs are calling for a statement to parliament on the case.

"I have ordered an immediate inquiry into this matter," Straw said in a statement. "Though I have no knowledge of the facts in this case, it is completely unacceptable for an interview conducted by an MP on a constituency matter - or on any other issue - to be recorded."

Khan welcomed the inquiry, the BBC adds. ®

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