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Hoon's up the creek without a paddle; EXCLUSIVE MINISTER'S BOAT BREAKS DOWN.

Byline: PAUL GILFEATHER, Whitehall Editor

TROUBLED Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon had to be rescued from a lake after his boat broke down - in the appropriately named Greenhorn Creek.

The embattled Minister, who was on holiday, was stranded after the engine packed in.

Mr Hoon, his wife Elaine and three children tried to swim ashore after attempts to row the small vessel failed.

But the distressed family, accompanied by two Special Branch detectives, had to be picked up by a passing cabin cruiser after desperately flailing around in the water.

A witness said: "The irony was obvious. His boating mishap seemed to be the perfect metaphor for his political career, which is sinking fast."

Mr Hoon, battling for his job over the Iraq war and the Hutton inquiry into the death of scientist Dr David Kelly, was holidaying in the mountain resort of Angels Camp, near Sacramento in California.

Resort boss Tim Shearer took them for a ride in his boat on beautiful New Melones Lake - but the engine overheated near the middle.

The group looked bewildered until Mr Hoon suggested they row back to the marina. Mr Shearer said: "We tried for a couple of minutes but we weren't getting anywhere.

"So we all started to swim for a bit before we flagged down another boat. We climbed back into our own boat and got a tow." Bosses at the resort were warned that a VIP visitor would be coming to get away from his troubles back home.

The Minister even slapped a "don't mention the war" gagging order on resort staff.

Angels Camp police chief Tony Tacheira was told by Mr Hoon's aides that he did not want to discuss Iraq or any politics.

Mr Shearer added: "I kept the conversation focused on family and other such matters. I kind of bragged on about Calaveras County and Angels Camp."

Mr Hoon later toured nearby Calaveras Big Trees State Park and other natural attractions.

paul.gilfeather@mirror.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

WARNING: Sign by lake; BEAUTY SPOT: The New Melones Lake where Hoon went boating; ASHORE: Mr Hoon back at home yesterday; Picture: NEIL PLUMB
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 1, 2003
Words:355
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