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Programme highlights Monday, 12 March, 2001, 09:35 GMT
"No evidence" that Mandelson misled amidst Whitehall "muddle"
Peter Mandelson in his Hartlepool constituency
Peter Mandelson responds to the Hammond report
The mystery of the man who did nothing wrong reached a conclusion of sorts this morning.

Just before ten o'clock Peter Mandelson emerged from his constituency home in Hartlepool to proclaim that Sir Anthony's report had established that he "did not lie, did not deceive and did not set out to mislead" - though of course, the report actually finds there is no evidence on the matter.

Nevertheless, Mr Mandelson went on to express his gratitude to Sir Anthony for "clearing my name and restoring my reputation".

Downing Street seemed to endorse that verdict by declaring that he could now get on with the rest of his life without a stain on his character.

Unasked

Yet for that very reason, the report is strangely unsatisfying. Having established that the awarding of passports to the two Hinduja brothers, GP and SP, was entirely above board, and that no one sought to exercise any undue influence over the decisions, Sir Anthony left one huge question not just unanswered, but apparently unasked.

Why on earth was Peter Mandelson driven from office on such flimsy evidence?

A copy of the Hammond Report
Sir Anthony's report makes clear his acceptance that Peter Mandelson's belief that he had not had a telephone conversation with the Home Office minister Mike O'Brien about the passport application of SP Hinduja, was honestly held though Sir Anthony concludes that the telephone conversation probably did take place.

After Alistair Campbell in a press briefing, and Chris Smith in the House, had given - they said unwittingly - misleading versions of the story, based on Peter Mandelson's recollection of events, the former Northern Ireland secretary came under intense pressure.

Unworthy

This muddle - based superficially on a row about what Sir Anthony Hammond describes as "a telephone call unworthy of such attention" - makes it all the more surprising that Mr Mandelson was forced to resign.

Sir Anthony has nothing to say about the final act in the drama. The Prime Minister too has refused to be drawn on the question describing Mr Mandleson's resignation as "over and done with" and "past history".

When Peter Mandelson spoke to Sir Anthony Hammond, he was accompanied by Jonathan Caplan QC.

In the light of Sir Anthony's conclusions Mr Caplan told The World at One that he believed Mr Mandelson's departure was the result of the Prime Minister arriving at a decision based on a version of events assembled by Home Office and Number Ten officials that on closer examination proved to be incorrect.

Erroneous

Indeed he describes the decision to force Mr Mandelson to resign before an inquiry as an erroneous judgement and one which, were the case to be heard in the civil courts, would be construed as constructive dismissal.

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 ON THIS STORY
Peter Mandelson
I did not lie, I did not deceive, I did not set out to mislead
Jonathan Caplan
The decision to force Mr Mandelson to resign was an erroneous judgement
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