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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Profile: Beverley Hughes
Beverley Hughes
Ms Hughes was one of the 1997 'Blair Babes'
Beverley Hughes' resignation brings to a sudden halt what had been a meteoric rise through government ranks.

Elected to Parliament as MP for Stretford and Urmston in 1997 as one of the "Blair Babes", she must be rueing the day she accepted the asylum and immigration portfolio.

That brief proved something of a poison chalice for the mother-of-three, with a series of controversies in recent weeks leading to increasingly forceful calls from the Tories for her to quit.

Last month she was forced to admit she had misled Labour MP Geraldine Smith when she claimed police and immigration officials had taken action to deal with migrant cockle-pickers in the run-up to February's Morecambe Bay tragedy when 20 Chinese workers drowned.

However, it was allegations published in the Sunday Times by "whistleblower" Steve Moxon, over practices at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) where he worked, that first brought Tory calls for Ms Hughes to resign.

Going nowhere

Mr Moxon claimed immigration officials were told to waive key checks on immigrants from eastern Europe who were seeking to start businesses in the UK.

An inquiry by senior IND manager Ken Sutton appeared to have cleared her of manipulating immigration figures, causing her to blame middle-ranking managers in her department for an "excess of zeal" in their attempt to clear a backlog of cases.

Beverley Hughes is not going, she's not resigning, she's not going to be sacked
David Blunkett

But the row was reignited again when the Sunday Times published a leaked memo from IND senior managers in Croydon which stated that a policy to clear applications from people in the country for more than three months had ministerial backing.

Her boss, Home Secretary David Blunkett has leapt to her defence, accusing "right-wing" newspapers of trying to claim a scalp.

"Let me absolutely clear: Beverley Hughes is not going, she's not resigning, she's not going to be sacked," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"She has got the most difficult job outside Cabinet and she is doing it superbly."

'Absolutely appalled'

And the flame-haired former lecturer and council leader certainly seemed to be able to handle the repeated calls for her to quit.

There was a further wave of pressure on Monday when shadow home secretary David Davis disclosed that a civil servant in the British embassy at Bucharest had been suspended for telling the Conservatives in an e-mail his concerns about immigration checks.

James Cameron, who works in Bucharest, had claimed checks waived by Sheffield immigration officials were the "tip of the iceberg".

The claim was that Romanian and Bulgarian people were being granted the right to live and set up businesses in the UK despite warnings they were using forged documents.

Ms Hughes, 54, was educated at Ellesmere Port Girls' Grammar School, Manchester University and Liverpool University.

Ridicule

She was a probation officer on Merseyside, before returning to Manchester University as a research associate and then as a lecturer.

She first became a minister of state in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in 1998.

Her expertise is in social policy and she has long been an advocate of the rights of women and pensioners.

She took on responsibility for asylum and immigration in the 2002 reshuffle following Stephen Byers' departure from government.

But she was the target of much ridicule and criticism in July 2001 when she toured the media denouncing the edition of the Channel 4 television show Brass Eye dealing with paedophilia.

Ms Hughes declared that it was "unspeakably sick", but had not seen it - and refused to watch it.




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