Top Official Challenged in U.K. Border Check Fiasco

LONDON -- Britain's former border chief on Tuesday denied accusations by Home Secretary Theresa May that he acted without authority in relaxing some passport checks during the busy summer tourist season.

The public spat between Brodie Clark and May, one of the government's most senior officials, added confusion to a widening scandal about the government's handling of border controls. May is under pressure to reveal the extent to which she was responsible for the lapses in border security over the summer.

May accused Clark of relaxing the checks beyond what she had agreed to at 28 British ports and airports, including London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest. Last week, she told Parliament that because of the lapses, there is no way to determine how many people entered the country without proper checks during the season, blaming Clark for the problem.

But Clark, giving evidence Tuesday to lawmakers probing the breakdown in security, flatly denied May's account and insisted he never went further than instructed. The career civil servant had said that May gave an inaccurate description of events and suspended him out of "political convenience." He resigned last week.

"I was meticulous in holding to the conditions and terms that the Home Secretary had put in place," Clark told a parliamentary committee. "I am no rogue officer. Nothing can be further from the truth."

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He said May had approved the changes he authorized, and that May and other Home Office officials were aware of the latest changes because he gave them weekly briefings.

He is planning to sue the government, which he says forced him out of his job.

Asked why his testimony was in contradiction with May's account, he said: "I just do not understand why she had said that."

Opposition lawmakers were angered at the lack of clarity over the issue and demanded that May personally answer questions in Parliament. On Tuesday, May did not attend an emergency debate at the House of Commons, instead sending a deputy to field hostile questions.

Prime Minister David Cameron has backed May, saying she had acted properly when she introduced a trial program to reduce some border checks. He has condemned border agency officials for going beyond her orders and letting controls become too lax.

The questions over border security were particularly vexing to some lawmakers because Cameron's government has insisted that tightening border controls is a priority since it came into power last year. Officials have stepped up campaigns to crack down on illegal immigrants and revised visa rules to make it harder for people to work and study in the country.