Whitehall top job goes to Clarke's tech expert

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has appointed a senior official in charge of technology at the Home Office as the new Government Chief Information Officer, taking responsibility for all of Whitehall's computer systems.

John Suffolk has been director general of Criminal Justice IT since January 2004 and will replace Ian Watmore, the former managing director of consultants Accenture, who becomes the head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit.

His appointment comes despite the terrible problems within the Home Office, with IT issues contributing to the fiasco that led to more than 1,000 foreign nationals being released from UK prisons without being considered for deportation.

The scandal led to Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, losing his job on Friday. Pressure is mounting on Sir John Gieve, who was permanent secretary at the department when the errors took place, to step down from his current role as deputy governor of the Bank of England.

Insiders at the Home Office say that problems with a new computer system for the Immigration & Nationality Directorate (IND), designed by Siemens UK, contributed to the crisis. Officials were not able to retrieve data about released prisoners from the system.

A spokesman for the Home Office denied that Mr Suffolk had any role in the IND systems. His job was to oversee the massive £2bn programme to deliver a new Criminal Justice IT system, which would link the police, courts, the prison service, the IND, the Lord Chancellor's office and the Home Office.

The project involves not only the Home Office but also the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Attorney General's Office.

The Home Office said the Criminal Justice IT system was not linked into the IND one, so could not have contributed to any failure to pass on information about prisoners.

Mr Suffolk is an IT industry veteran with over 25 years' experience, much of which involved managing large technology projects.

His hobby is running a rare- breeds conservation farm in the Peak District, where the animals are named after senior business leaders and politicians.