An inquiry that failed to answer the questions

In one sense, Sir Alan Budd has done a satisfactory job. His inquiry has established beyond doubt that Leoncia Casalme's visa application was indeed fast-tracked. Mr Blunkett, who had strenuously denied that any fast- tracking went on at all, had no choice but to resign when this fact emerged.

But in another sense, Sir Alan's efforts have been highly unsatisfactory. Despite uncovering evidence of wrongdoing, he has lamentably failed to apportion blame. One might even come away from reading the Budd report with the impression that the whole thing was an innocent misunderstanding.

Sir Alan discovered that some time in the week of 28 April 2003, Mr Blunkett's office contacted the director general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) regarding Ms Casalme's case. This contact set in motion the fast-tracking. The question of who gave the order is of paramount importance. Was it the Home Secretary? Was it Mr Blunkett's private secretary for immigration? Or was it perhaps a more junior civil servant? It must, as Sir Alan concedes, have been someone.

But when Sir Alan came to question Mr Blunkett and his staff on that crucial matter, it seems that no one could remember what happened. Nor was there any material evidence to help solve the mystery. A fax sent to the IND that would have revealed the truth was destroyed.

Sir Alan was forced to admit that: "I have not been able to determine whether Mr Blunkett gave any instructions in relation to the case and, if so, what they were". He does, however, suggest that Mr Blunkett may have actually been using Ms Casalme's case, quite innocently, as a way of drawing attention to the IND's poor performance in processing visas and that he was misinterpreted by over-zealous officials. But then again, says Sir Alan, he may not. We are left none the wiser.

Once again, a government inquiry has failed to hold anyone responsible for serious misdemeanours in public life. And troubling questions have, once again, been raised over the independence of the civil service. This inquiry will do nothing to bolster the public's dwindling confidence in the probity of our political leaders.

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