An independent investigator is today due to be named to conduct a review into allegations that British Home Secretary David Blunkett abused his public position to help a former lover.
Mr Blunkett requested the review himself last night after a string of press allegations relating to his former relationship with Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn.
He has asked his department’s senior civil servant, permanent secretary John Gieve, to appoint someone today who will be “independent of the Home Office and independent of the Home Secretary”.
Sources close to Mr Blunkett said the review would focus narrowly on claims that the Home Secretary intervened to “fast-track” a visa application by Mrs Quinn’s Filipina nanny Leoncia Casalme, who was seeking permanent residency in the UK.
But the Conservatives immediately called for it to be widened to look into allegations that he divulged secret information in “pillow talk” with Mrs Quinn; gave her a free MP’s rail ticket; ordered his government chauffeur to drive her between London and his Derbyshire home; stationed a policeman outside her Mayfair home during a May Day riot and took her to Spain accompanied by bodyguards at taxpayer expense.
In a statement last night, Mr Blunkett speled out the reasons for his decision to ask for an inquiry just hours after Prime Minister Tony Blair had expressed his “full confidence” in him.
Mr Blunkett said: “Trust, plain-speaking and straight talking is something which matters so much to me as a politician and as a man that I have decided, of my own volition, to request an independent review of the allegations that I misused my position in the case of the renewal of a visa application by Leoncia Casalme.
“I regret the time and resources needed to undertake this, but in the light of the flagrant attempt to link my public position with the deeply personal circumstances of my private life, I believe that on this specific occasion, it is right to lay this accusation to rest.”
The Sunday Telegraph quoted a recent e-mail from Mrs Quinn as saying Mr Blunkett had “fast-tracked” Ms Casalme’s application in 2003 at a time when their relationship, which ended this summer, was still strong.
The paper claimed that Mr Blunkett sent a government car to pick up the nanny’s passport after promising Mrs Quinn he would sort out her visa and later told her: “She wouldn’t have got it if it hadn’t been for me.”
Mr Blunkett’s spokesman strenuously denied the allegation, insisting the Home Secretary had merely been asked to take a look at the application form to check it had been filled in properly.
The Home Secretary had already dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion that he asked police to be stationed outside Mrs Quinn’s door.
Mr Blunkett had confirmed that he provided her with a free rail-ticket, but said it was one he believed he was entitled to claim for a partner’s travel and he was ready to refund the money if House of Commons authorities disagreed.
Mrs Quinn had been given lifts only on trips Mr Blunkett’s chauffeur was already scheduled to make on government business, while the bodyguards were in Spain as part of the Home Secretary’s normal protection, he said.
A heavily-pregnant Mrs Quinn was last night at her central London home with multi-millionaire husband Stephen and two-year-old son William, who is understood to be the subject of a paternity claim from Mr Blunkett.
Mr Quinn yesterday spoke publicly about her three-year affair for the first time, telling the Sunday Times he had forgiven his wife and expected to remain with her for a long time.
The couple made no comment to reporters as they returned to the house last night.