In Brussels today hundreds of European Commission staff were evacuated from their offices while police examined a hoax bomb device, sent to the newly-appointed EU Commissioner, Chris Patten. One theory being considered is the incident may be linked to Mr Patten's recent work as the chairman of the Commission on Reform of the RUC.

Chris Patten's secretary was this morning unpacking boxes when she found an alarm clock, with wires attached. She alerted the security services and several hundred Commission staff were evacuated from the building while the Belgian authorities dealt with the device and confirmed it was an elaborate hoax.

No warning was given and no note was found with the device. It was left in one of several boxes of documents, sent to Mr Patten from the Strasbourg office of the retiring EU Trade Commissioner, Leon Brittan. Because it was part of the Commission's internal post, it was not passed through a metal detector. Mr Patten missed the fuss because he is currently in New York on EU business.