Blunkett is relieved he can carry on fight to see 'my son'

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The Independent Online

In an unprecedented court hearing yesterday, David Blunkett won a significant victory in the legal battle with his former lover Kimberly Quinn over contact with her son, of whom he claims to be father.

In an unprecedented court hearing yesterday, David Blunkett won a significant victory in the legal battle with his former lover Kimberly Quinn over contact with her son, of whom he claims to be father.

A High Court judge rejected Mrs Quinn's attempt to have the case brought by Mr Blunkett postponed until April next year because her health was at risk. Mrs Quinn, who, it became clear for the first time, is contesting Mr Blunkett's claim that he is is the father, is seven months pregnant with her second child and in hospital with stress.

Mr Justice Ryder agreed that a delay could damage the Home Secretary's relationship with the two-year-old boy - referred to as "A" - whom he has not seen since August, when the relationship with Mrs Quinn, the publisher of The Spectator, ended. In a highly personal statement issued afterwards, Mr Blunkett referred to the boy as "my son".

Yesterday's judgment, delivered in Court 47 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, represented the first time that many facts of the case, which has been subject to much discussion in the media over the past week, have been officially placed in the public domain. It is also very unusual for any such family case to be conducted, even in part, in front of the media, let alone one involving the Home Secretary.

Mr Justice Ryder rejected a plea from Mrs Quinn's lawyers for the judgment to be delivered in private, saying it was important to correct some "wholly inaccurate" reporting of the issues. However, he made it clear that the rest of the case, including the ordering of DNA tests to clarify whether Mr Blunkett is the father, will be held in private.

Although it represents a victory, the decision will have mixed blessings for Mr Blunkett. He has been under severe pressure from colleagues to drop his fight to have contact with the boy, but now sees the case continuing for some time.

The Home Secretary, who was not in court, said afterwards: "I'm naturally relieved at today's judgment so I can continue my attempts to gain access to my son." He added: "I have never wanted anything about my private life and [A's] paternity to be in the public domain and would never have gone to the courts if there were another way of getting informal access to him. I still hope this may be possible as I have not seen [A] since August."

Outside the court yesterday, Mr Blunkett's spokesman was asked if private difficulties were stopping the Home Secretary from performing his job. He said: "Virtually all of us have issues in our private lives which can sometimes be demanding and difficult. We're all professional and we can all manage to do our jobs. I don't think anyone has noticed over the past four months that they have seen any less of David Blunkett."

Mr Blunkett received immediate backing from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Mr Blair's spokesman insisted the Home Secretary still enjoyed the Prime Minister's backing. He said: "You simply have to look at what David Blunkett has been doing during the past 10 days in setting out the vision contained in the Queen's Speech, in following that vision through in media appearances and in his work at Cabinet and in his department." Mr Brown told GMTV: "He is not being diverted from continuing to do every aspect of his job."

Mr Justice Ryder's ruling disclosed that Mr Blunkett had first made an application for a parental responsibility order and a contact order on 11 November. Although an initial conciliation hearing was set for 30 November, Mrs Quinn sought to have the case adjourned on health grounds. On 23 November, Senior District Judge Waller rejected her application. Her appeal against that decision was heard in the High Court on Thursday, attended by Mr Blunkett.

During that two-hour hearing, according to the ruling, Mrs Quinn's lawyers argued that the case should be postponed until April 2005 because she was unable to consider any of the issues and was "at serious risk to her mental and physical health".

Mr Blunkett's lawyers argued that delay would damage the relationship between him and "A" and said Mrs Quinn was not so ill that she was completely incapacitated; they pointed out she had been able to brief her legal team until 25 November.

Mr Justice Ryder said he accepted these arguments and upheld Judge Waller's ruling that it was in the child's interest to have his parentage determined at the earliest opportunity.

The case will now return for a further hearing in front of Judge Waller at an undisclosed date in the next couple of weeks at which it will be considered whether Mrs Quinn's husband, Stephen Quinn, the publisher of Vogue, should be joined as a party and whether there should be DNA tests to determine paternity. Yesterday's ruling stressed that neither Mr Blunkett nor Mrs Quinn had applied for the tests; the judge also pointed out that, contrary to some reports, neither had Mr Blunkett applied for a residence order for the child.

Mr Justice Ryder said the appeal had been heard urgently because of the imminence of the next hearing and joked that it had not been "fast-tracked".