Inquiry called into leak of arms-to-Iraq papers

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Media Correspondent

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, yesterday asked Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, to investigate how confidential government documents disclosed to the defence in the Ordtech arms-to-Iraq trial were leaked to the Independent.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions of four businessmen involved in exporting military components to Iraq on the grounds that they had been denied a fair trial because vital documents, detailing contacts with the security services, were withheld by the Government.

At the end of the appeal, Lord Taylor warned that the documents had been made available "for the purpose of the appeal only" and were to be returned immediately on completion of the hearing. He said that any further reproduction of the material, either on television or in newspapers, would be referred to Sir Nicholas.

The Lord Chief Justice said sections of three documents had been reprinted in Wednesday's edition of the Independent, one on the front page and two on page two. "It would appear at first blush that there has been a clear breach of the court's order. It is clear also that the documents only got there by going through someone who had access to them during the hearing." Counsel for the four men - Paul Grecian, Stuart Blackledge, Bryan Mason and Colin Phillips - assured Lord Taylor that the documents and copies of them had been kept secure and were now in the process of being returned to the Crown.

Nevertheless, the Lord Chief Justice ordered legal teams representing the four men to return all disclosed documents by Monday. "I'm sorry to say that this exercise has to be conducted, but it's perfectly obvious that it is necessary. Somewhere along the line there has been a leakage of some kind and we propose to refer the matter to the Attorney General to investigate."

Ian Hargreaves, editor of the Independent, was in court. He said afterwards: "So far as I'm concerned, the Independent was reporting a matter of great public interest to the fullest extent possible consistent with our understanding of the Lord Chief Justice's position."