Inquisitor plays it straight and slight

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The Independent Online
Sir Richard Scott played a straight bat as he faced the world's media after the publication of his telephone-directory-sized report yesterday.

Indeed, some of the answers he gave might as well have come from a telephone directory for all the light they shed on his three-year inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq affair.

"Read the report," he constantly urged questioners. "I don't think I am here to enter into philosophical discussions about the meaning of words," he told one.

He did say that he believed that William Waldegrave, former Foreign Office minister and now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had misled Parliament about whether the guidelines on the sale of arms to Iraq had been relaxed.

Sir Richard told the press conference: "My conclusions are that some of the answers he gave and some of the letters he wrote were in some respects misleading."

He added that any ministerial resignations were a matter for Parliament not for the inquiry, and that he did not intend to advise Mr Waldegrave "about manners" as far as an apology was concerned.

Sir Richard said unequivocally that he believed the evidence given by Baroness Thatcher, who said that she had not known what was going on, but he declined to say whether he thought Jonathan Aitken, the former Defence Procurement minister, was a liar.

He admitted that some recommendations about "the use of intelligence" had not been included in the report and that evidence given behind closed doors by some witnesses had also been omitted.

Asked about the criticism by Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, and others of the way in which the inquiry was handled Sir Richard replied: "I was surprised that they thought it was a useful thing to do. I didn't think it was a useful thing to do.

"I wish people had had more opportunity in advance to look at the report," he replied when asked about complaints from the Opposition and civil servants that they had not had sufficient time to look at the document.

Sir Richard, 61, Vice-Chancellor of the High Court Chancery Division, admitted that he had not liked everything he came across during his lengthy tour of the corridors of power.

"Shocked?" he replied to a particularly leading question using that word. His diplomatic mask came down as he continued: "I was certainly surprised by some of the things I came across and disappointed, too."

In the short term, Sir Richard is resigned to the report becoming what he termed a "political football" to be kicked between the parties and he said yesterday that he agreed with some of the points made by both sides in the parliamentary debate after its publication.

In the long term, he said that the Government had given him undertakings that some of his recommendations would be implemented and that others would be looked at.

"At the end of the day I hope that it will assist in movement towards more openness in government and a reduction in what has sometimes been in a slightly sound-bite way called the culture of secrecy in Whitehall," he said.