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National bridge team facing a reshuffle thanks to passport row

A KEY member of Scotland's bridge team is facing missing out on an important international competition because of hold-ups at the Passport Office.

STILL WAITING: Bridge player Alex Wilkinson has been waiting five weeks for his new passport.
STILL WAITING: Bridge player Alex Wilkinson has been waiting five weeks for his new passport.

Alex Wilkinson, a university history lecturer, applied for a new passport in the middle of May and believed he would have it within three weeks.

But more than a month later he is still waiting for the document to arrive and fears he will not be able to travel to Croatia for the European Bridge Team Championships, which start on Saturday.

"It was just a basic renewal and should have taken no more than three weeks, but five weeks on I'm still waiting," he said.

"It's very frustrating. I've phoned the helpline a dozen times. Everyone has tried to help but I still haven't got my passport.

"Escalation forms were even put on the application last week which are supposed to guarantee that you get the passport within two days."

He added: "If I can't get to the competition not only will it be really disappointing for me but it will also place my team mates under a lot more pressure as they will have to play more games.

"They will have to play as a team of four, rather than a team of six. It will mean they have to play for nine hours a day, rather than five-and-a-half hours.

"It's not impossible, but it will be a lot more difficult for them."

The Home Office said the delay had arisen because the address to which Mr Wilkinson had requested the passport be sent was different to the home address given in the renewal ­application form.

It has now pledged to try to speed up the application so that he receives it in the next few days. But Mr Wilkinson's appearance at the tournament is still in doubt as he cannot make plans until it actually arrives.

Mr Wilkinson, 26, who lives in Lancaster, paid £72.50 for the renewal when he applied online on May 14 and had planned to travel to the competition with his father Anthony, 61, a retired maths teacher, who captains the senior Scottish bridge team.

But his father had to leave without him last Saturday because he had booked to take his car on the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk.

He explained: "If I do get the passport tomorrow I might just make the competition. I can possibly get a flight from Manchester to Croatia."

Earlier this month it emerged that thousands of people may have to abandon foreign holidays after delays in getting new passports. Union leaders said Passport Office staff were struggling to deal with up to 500,000 applications following 300 job cuts over the past four years.

But Paul Pugh, its chief ­executive, said there had been an exceptional early summer demand. In the first five months of the year, 300,000 more applications were received than in the same period last year. The Home Office has blamed the improving economy for an increase in people needing passports to travel after an aggressive marketing campaign by holiday companies earlier in the year.

Russell Frame, president of the Scottish Bridge Union, said: "I'm hoping this problem will be resolved. Bridge is a game that is played by a team of four, but in the European Championships we usually have six players and rotate the pairs to give players a rest. If Alex can't get there it will compromise our ability to compete."

Hundreds of players are due to arrive in Opatija, Croatia, this week for the 52nd European Bridge Team Championships, which continue to July 1.

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