Blunkett lines up 'over-zealous' official as fall guy in visa row

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Indy Politics

David Blunkett is preparing to lay the blame for the "fast-tracking" of a visa for the nanny of his former lover at the door of an over-zealous official in the Home Office, according to senior ministers.

David Blunkett is preparing to lay the blame for the "fast-tracking" of a visa for the nanny of his former lover at the door of an over-zealous official in the Home Office, according to senior ministers.

The Home Secretary is this weekend preparing to face Sir Alan Budd, who is to investigate allegations that he abused his position to speed the application at the request of Kimberly Quinn.

Her husband, Stephen Quinn, said: "She has written to Budd. I have said to her that it is singularly important that she does this. It would be disgraceful if he wasn't interested in her evidence."

The Home Office made clear that Sir Alan would take evidence from all "relevant" witnesses.

Close colleagues say Mr Blunkett's defence will be that an official in his department prioritised her application without his knowledge. The Home Secretary's political future depends on the judgement reached by Sir Alan on whether he personally intervened in a visa application from Mrs Quinn's Filipina nanny, Leoncia Casalme, processed in just 19 days.

It emerged last night that Mrs Quinn is demanding that she give evidence to the Budd inquiry. The determination of Mr Blunkett's former lover to give her account in person raises the stakes in their increasingly bitter battle.

Until now, friends of Mr Blunkett have suggested that Ms Casalme's application was one of a number processed quickly as part of efforts to clear a backlog.

Senior government figures believe that this line of defence cannot be sustained, however. Instead, Mr Blunkett is likely to tell the inquiry that an official took it on himself to fast-track the application despite the fact that he had issued no such instruction. "It wasn't even a nod and a wink," said one minister.

Initially Mr Blunkett's spokesman flatly denied that the application had been considered by his private office. "It did not go through his office and she [Miss Casalme] submitted it himself."

Later, however, the explanation was amended. "David took it with him to the Home Office and said to his principal private secretary [Jonathan Sedgwick] and his deputy [Gareth Redmond], 'I have got a piece of paper in my hand. What does it say?' "One of them may well have read it to him and looked it over."

Although aides insist that Ms Casalme submitted the application herself there have been reports that her case was referred to Jon Gieve, the Home Office's most senior civil servant. The mandarin got one of "his minions to do the needful", the Daily Mirror has reported "an immigration source" as saying.

Mr Blunkett's hand has been forced by a series of parliamentary questions tabled by the Conservatives on how many other visa applications of a similar type were processed in just 19 days.

Meanwhile, Mr Quinn emerged from their £2m Mayfair home to say that his wife had been moved to a specialist unit as concern about her condition increased. "She's very unwell and we've moved her to another hospital where she can get more detailed care," he said.

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