Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Key Blair ally in huge storm over mistress' nanny

SOAP OPERA Did David Blunkett fast-track a visa application? It's almost a side issue in a carnival of paternity suits, DNA tests and fiddled expenses


Britain's top law enforcement official is mired in a messy scandal with all the ingredients of a big political headache -- a married lover, a reported paternity dispute, and now charges of providing fast-track visa processing for the girlfriend's Filipina nanny.

Home Secretary David Blunkett insisted Wednesday that he'd done nothing wrong, dismissing as irrelevant a newspaper report that said his department's immigration division gave the nanny a British residency visa just 19 days after telling her it could take a year to process.

The tawdry allegations surrounding Blunkett's now-ended three-year relationship with married magazine publisher Kimberly Quinn have been splashed across Britain's front pages for days, apparently fed by leaks from both sides. Among the more salacious reports is that Blunkett is seeking DNA tests to prove he is the father of the pregnant Quinn's 2-year-old son and the child she is now carrying.

Quinn, who reportedly began the affair with Blunkett nine weeks after embarking on her second marriage, has been hospitalized for treatment of stress.

Blunkett, who is divorced, has set up an independent investigation to examine the most serious charge -- that he used his influence to fast-track the visa application of Leoncia Casalme, Quinn's nanny. Prime Minister Tony Blair says he's standing behind his tough-minded ally and is confident Blunkett will be cleared.

"I've done nothing wrong," the home secretary told reporters Wednesday. "I wouldn't have requested myself on Sunday the review if I thought there was any doubt whatsoever about what I'd done, my integrity and my openness. I have spent 34 years in politics ... building people's trust. I don't intend to throw it away."

Despite the speculation in political circles about Blunkett's future, he may well survive the brouhaha over the purported overlap between his private and public lives.

One of the highest-profile members of Blair's Cabinet, Blunkett has been a central player in the government's domestic anti-terrorism efforts since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He's sometimes angered others in the governing Labour Party with tough policies such as a crackdown on immigration and plans for mandatory identification cards.

His latest woes began in August, when his relationship with Quinn, an American who is publisher of the conservative Spectator magazine, became public. The trouble turned more serious Sunday, when The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that he helped facilitate permanent residency status for Casalme.

The Daily Mail newspaper reported Wednesday that it had obtained two letters the Home Office sent to the nanny last year. The first told her the visa application could take up to a year; the second, 19 days later, said her application had been approved.

Blunkett said the documents were authentic but that "they prove absolutely nothing." He said his department was expediting a "very large number of documents" at the time.

The Home Office said that in the backlog-clearing period before the imposition of an application fee came into effect in August 2003, "It was not unusual for straightforward cases to be dealt with within a few weeks."

But the opposition Conservative Party said the two letters suggested Casalme's application may have received special treatment.

"Mr. Blunkett will have to explain precisely how this rapid processing of the application came about," said David Davis, the Tory spokesman on home affairs. "If he influenced this matter, his position is untenable."

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