Probe into law chief's illegal worker

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Indy Politics

Immigration officials launched an investigation today into revelations that the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, employed an illegal migrant.

The Government's top law officer sacked her housekeeper, Loloahi Tapui, yesterday after it emerged that the 27-year-old Tongan was in the UK illegally.

Lady Scotland, who has denied knowing Tapui did not have the right to work here, faces a civil penalty of up to £10,000 if found guilty.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: "The UK Border Agency will conduct this investigation as they would any other investigation into allegations of illegal working.

"We will not provide a running commentary."

The Daily Mail revealed today that Ms Tapui has been looking after Lady Scotland's family home in west London for the past six months.

According to the paper, she has been living in Britain illegally for five years after overstaying a student visa.

The revelations are a major embarrassment to Lady Scotland, who attends the Cabinet as the Government's most senior law officer and is responsible for all court litigation.

Opposition leaders said it was a "disgrace" that ministers talked tough on businesses which employed illegal migrants while failing to carry out proper checks themselves.

But Gordon Brown's spokesman said the Prime Minister had "full confidence" in the Attorney General.

He said Mr Brown was aware of the Attorney General's response to the revelations.

He said: "The Prime Minister is aware of the statement and has full confidence in Baroness Scotland. He thinks she's doing a very good job as Attorney General."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "This is a Government that says all small employers should be prosecuted if they don't know the immigration status of their employees and yet we have senior ministers who can't be bothered to make the checks themselves.

"There is a real 'one rule for them, one rule for us' attitude at the heart of this Government and it is a disgrace."

In a statement last night, Lady Scotland's office announced that Ms Tapui had been dismissed after details of her immigration status became known.

"Baroness Scotland has never knowingly employed an illegal immigrant," said the statement, released last night.

"She hired Ms Tapui in good faith and saw documents which led her to believe that Ms Tapui was entitled to work in this country.

"Ms Tapui lives locally and is understood to be married to a British national. Prior to being hired by Baroness Scotland she was in registered employment. She is registered for tax and insurance."

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, leapt to Lady Scotland's defence, but said everyone in public life had a duty to obey the law.

He said she was a person of "the highest integrity" who had been an "excellent" Attorney General.

"But of course, everyone in public life is in a position where they should be obeying the law and she says she did and she has issued a statement and I can't take the discussion further on those particular facts," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

Earlier, former Home Office official Christopher Galley, who now works for the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics campaign group, demanded an investigation.

In a letter to the head of UKBA, Lin Homer, he wrote: "As you will know, even unknowingly employing an overstayer is still an offence, punishable by a fine of up to £10,000.

"I urge you, as chief executive of the United Kingdom Border Agency, to fulfil your statutory duty as required under the Act and enforce the law upon Baroness Scotland without regard for her high office."

A UKBA spokesman confirmed it had received the letter.

Lady Scotland now faces the indignity of an investigation under a piece of legislation she helped shepherd through the House of Lords.

Under the 2006 Immigration Act, employers have a legal duty to ensure anyone they employ has the right to work in this country.