LONDON (Reuters) - A British minister on Wednesday condemned rumour-mongering about the sexuality of Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who is under fire for allowing a male business friend who works in the sector to accompany him on official business trips abroad.
Fox's future remains in doubt over accusations that he put national security at risk by granting high-level access to former flatmate Adam Werritty, who has no official post within the ministry but presented himself as an adviser to Fox.
Prime Minister David Cameron has backed Fox pending a full report into his conduct which he will receive on Oct. 21.
In the meantime, newspapers are full of stories about the married right-wing minister's conduct and what may have motivated it.
"I've known Liam for many years. I know him and his wife and they have always struck me as being a very happily married couple," Employment Minister Chris Grayling told BBC Radio 4.
"The reality is, the gossip is certainly circulating. I think we've got past the point in politics though where we needed to worry about people's private lives," he added.
"There may be gossip, innuendo and tittle-tattle around but the fact is Liam is a very good defence secretary doing a very good job."
The Sun tabloid reported on Wednesday that Conservative party officials had hushed up the fact that a friend was staying with Fox when his flat was burgled just before the general election in May last year.
Fox issued a statement to media saying he had told the police that he had a guest at the time of the robbery and had nothing to hide.
"I was a victim of a violent crime, and I'm appalled at being portrayed as having something to hide," he said. "We are trying to establish why the media were given the impression I was alone."
Fox married in 2005 and Werritty was his best man. Fox stood against Cameron as party leader later that year but lost.
An interim report established that Fox met Werritty 40 times over the past 18 months, almost half the meetings taking place overseas during official trips or family holidays.
Fox has apologised for blurring distinctions between "professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to a friend".
He is due in Paris on Wednesday to meet his French counterpart but a planned news conference has been cancelled.
Fox's job is particularly sensitive because Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and played a leading role in the NATO campaign to protect civilians in Libya during the uprising which overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.
At the same time he has to contend with deep cuts in the defence budget as part of sweeping reductions in government spending.
(Reporting by Keith Weir; Editing by Tim Pearce)