Avoiding scandal can sometimes be relatively difficult

THERE IS an old Chinese proverb: "All people are your relatives, therefore expect only trouble from them."

Whether it is a mother who refuses to attend her son’s wedding or a nephew who drags up history about his auntie, there really is no choosing your relatives.

On the same day as the Queen announced she would not be attending Prince Charles’s wedding, justice minister Cathy Jamieson strongly denied helping a relative evade the law.

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While the Labour MSP transferred 100 to the bank account of nephew Derek Hyslop - who was on the run from police at the time - in July 1999, she has stated that she had no idea he was wanted by police.

Hyslop, a drug addict who had just killed a woman in a robbery in Derby, was later jailed for manslaughter. Jamieson said the money was meant for her nephew’s baby.

If it were ever possible to prove that she had been aware then that would undoubtedly be a resignation issue.

So how do you defend your position against such a media onslaught?

Well there are really two ways of digging yourself out of the hole. The first is to shout loudly from the rooftops that there is not a scrap of truth in the allegation.

This should be swiftly followed by defamation proceedings. If it isn’t, then it just looks like bluff and bluster and the story will not die.

Difficulties arise, however, when the story happens to concern the justice minister. There would arguably be a public interest defence in running such a story, which would mean that the chances of suing successfully, even if the allegations were false, would be very slim.

So, how do politicians deflect the damage that will ensue from a story that could lead to their political demise?

The answer is to use what is known in media circles as a "spoiler". If you are aware that a story is to be printed, you can pre-empt it by contacting another paper - usually one more sympathetic to your cause - and do a deal.

You then put your side of the story forward first so that you get your denials out there before the other story breaks.

As the Daily Mail lined up its exclusive under the headline "The justice minister and the killer" - questioning Jamieson’s payment to her nephew while he was on the run - we were treated to another ‘exclusive’ in the Daily Record about "Cathy’s blackmail torment". The Record’s sub-deck ran: "Justice minister tells of killer nephew’s threats".

The result is media confusion, with prominent denials grabbing the headlines rather than wild accusations.

Of course it always helps to have the support of a friendly newspaper, just in case.

As Euripides once wrote: "One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives."