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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 17:05 GMT
PM silent as Mandelson 'cleared'
Peter Mandelson
'No reason to doubt Mandelson's integrity', says report
Downing Street is refusing to comment on reports that former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson has been cleared of lying by the inquiry into the Hinduja passport affair.

The BBC has seen key extracts from the report into the affair by Sir Anthony Hammond QC, though not its conclusions.

I have no reason to doubt Mr Mandelson's honesty throughout this period

Sir Anthony Hammond

The extracts suggest the enforced resignation of one of the prime minister's closest political colleagues was premature and paint a picture of Whitehall confusion.

Tony Blair's spokesman said: "The leak has not come from us. We have nothing to say about the report until it is published."

Mr Mandelson has also refused to comment on the report.

He is said to have received a draft copy some days ago.

MPs refrained from raising the matter when the prime minister answered questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

But they are certain to ask searching questions when the report is published - probably on Friday.

Commenting on the leaked report, one of the brothers at the centre of the affair - Gopichand Hinduja - told BBC News that Mr Mandelson had "never done one favour for us and should be back in the government".

Mr Mandelson resigned in January after apparent discrepancies emerged over his alleged role in the granting of a British passport to the Millennium Dome benefactor, Srichand Hinduja.

Critics accused the Northern Ireland secretary of improperly pulling strings.
Sir Anthony Hammond
Sir Anthony Hammond: His report has been leaked

The report also exonerates Europe Minister Keith Vaz - who was also under investigation for his links to the Hinduja brothers.

Sir Anthony describes the circumstances surrounding the affair as totally confused, saying at one point: "I have not even now been able to establish the exact course of events".

But BBC political editor Andrew Marr says the report paints a picture of huge Whitehall confusion, blurred memories, and bad note-keeping, while the outcome raises the prospect of Peter Mandelson rebuilding a career in public life.

It is understood that Tony Blair, who set up the inquiry on the day Mr Mandelson quit, has not yet seen the final report.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, whose parliamentary questions first highlighted Mr Mandelson's links to the Hindujas, wants an inquiry into leaks from the Hammond Inquiry.

He said: "There have been so many leaks, there ought to be an inquiry into the number of leaks.

Crucial call

Mr Mandelson's resignation turned on a telephone call he's said to have made to Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien about the passport application.

The Hartlepool MP denied ever making the call - but this was contradicted by Home Secretary Jack Straw and Mr Blair's official spokesman, Alastair Campbell.

Sir Anthony says the phonecall probably did take place but, crucially, he adds of Mr Mandelson: "I am happy to accept as genuine his belief that he does not recall that telephone call.".

It is thought he told Sir Anthony that he has no recollection of speaking with Mr O'Brien about the Hinduja application.

He has said that as far as he can recall, the issue was dealt with by officials.

Lack of recall 'genuine'

It is understood Sir Anthony says in his report that he has "no reason to doubt Mr Mandelson's honesty throughout this period".

Conservative party chairman Michael Ancram said the real question was not whether the telephone call between Mr Mandelson and Mr O'Brien took place.


There have been so many leaks there ought to be an inquiry into the leaks

Norman Baker
He told BBC News: "What we want to get to the bottom of is the questionable behaviour.

"What was known about the Hinduja brothers, why the passport application was fast-tracked, as it appears to have been, and the whole question of the access that the Hinduja brothers had to ministers in relationship to the sponsorship of the Dome.

"These are the questions which really go to the propriety of this government."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Downing Street will not comment until the report is published"
The BBC's political correspondent Shaun Ley
"Sir Anthony's report will be of considerable embarrassment to the government"
Conservative Party Chairman Michael Ancram
"I think this is spin gone mad"
G.P Hinduja
"There was no connection between the Dome and the citizenship"
BBC News Online's special report on the passport for favours affair

Key stories

Inquiry report

Analysis

The players

VIDEO
See also:

06 Mar 01 | UK Politics
08 Feb 01 | UK Politics
05 Feb 01 | UK Politics
04 Feb 01 | UK Politics
09 Feb 01 | UK Politics
07 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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