Clark escapes charges over Matrix evidence

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The Independent Online
THE DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions has decided that Alan Clark, the former Conservative minister, cannot be prosecuted for the evidence he gave in last year's Matrix Churchill trial.

The Old Bailey case collapsed in November after Mr Clark told the court that he had advised Matrix Churchill to be 'economical with the actualite'; emphasising the peaceful use of machine tool exports to Iraq.

Alan Moses QC, for the prosecution, said that after Mr Clark's evidence, which was 'not consistent' with earlier statements, the Commissioner of Customs and Excise accepted that the charges could no longer be sustained.

At that point, the Metropolitan Police were asked to investigate those alleged 'inconsistencies'. Mr Clark said last night that he had not been contacted by the police since but, in a confused and confusing statement issued by the Crown Prosecution Service, it was revealed that they had been 'unable to establish with sufficient certainty which of the inconsistent statements made by Mr Clark was not true'.

The CPS spokesman added: 'Having carefully considered all the available evidence, the DPP has therefore concluded that there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction against any individual for any offence.'

Mr Clark, who ridiculed the 'illiterate' announcement, said that there had been no inconsistency between his statements before and during the trial. He had not advised concealment of the machine tools' military use - rather, that their peaceful use should be stressed.

He told ITN's Channel 4 News: 'There was no inconsistency. The prosecution may have claimed that there was, because they wanted to divert attention from their own serious error of judgement in seeking the suppression of a number of important documents which were very germane to the case.'

During the trial, the prosecution attempted to withhold Whitehall papers. Ministers signed public interest immunity certificates, stating that it would not be in the public interest that they should be disclosed.

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, said last night that the DPP's decision meant that the Prime Minister had lost his 'scapegoat'.

Paul Henderson, one of the three Matrix Churchill executives acquitted of illegally exporting arms to Iraq, said it would have been unfair to prosecute Mr Clark because he had been implementing government policy. 'But without question the reason the trial ultimately collapsed was (because of) the release of the documents.'

Mr Clark said he hoped Lord Justice Scott would take evidence on oath during his inquiry into the affair - implying that he might otherwise be misled.