'My report will have lasting place in legal history'

A swift end to the arms-to-Iraq saga is unlikely, as its author tells Chris Blackhurst
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The Independent Online
The long-awaited report on the arms to Iraq affair, to be published on Thursday, will prove to be a lasting document, to be poured over by generations to come, according to its author, Sir Richard Scott.

In an interview with the Independent, Sir Richard suggested that his inquiry report - which has been strongly attacked by senior Conservatives - would outlast the current political era and become a work of reference for their successors.

He said that once people had "flicked through the pages and personalities and transitary subjects been discussed," his report would prove to have historic value for legal and constitutional scholars. "I should think people interested in certain aspects of the law and certain aspects of government will be interested in it."

The report contains a chapter of recommendations, which Sir Richard expects will also guarantee it a place in the annals, since he is optimistic that they will be acted upon by the Government.

"I shall be very surprised if all the recommendations are ignored," he said.

Sir Richard's confidence is at odds with the continuing assault by senior Conservatives on his three-year inquiry into government policy and conduct over military exports to Iraq. Yesterday, Tristan Garel-Jones, the ex- Foreign Office Minister, and Sir Charles Powell, Mrs. Thatcher's former Foreign Affairs adviser, added their weight to those criticising the inquiry.

Mr Garel-Jones penned an article headed "Stuff it, Scott" in the Sunday Telegraph, in which he said he had no regrets about anything, except that the inquiry had been set up in the first place, and Mr Powell, speaking on a BBC programme, said he felt sure there was no scandal.

These interventions followed earlier assaults by Lord Howe and Douglas Hurd, two former foreign secretaries, and Sir Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher's former press secretary.

In his interview with the Independent, Sir Richard said he hoped people would study the report and read his words carefully before jumping to conclusions.

He confessed to being mindful of the possibility of legal action against him being taken by those criticised in the report. Discussions, he said, had taken place within the inquiry team about that possibility and steps had been taken. "I will not discuss the steps I took, I can't be sure there still won't be legal action," he said.

If the Government supposes Sir Richard will go quietly once his report appears and the initial reaction dies down, they should think again. The judge has accepted a series of invitations from law faculties and other organisations to give lectures on his report. They include, for example, a visit to Newcastle to speak about public interest immunity, one of the most politically-sensitive areas of his report, and to Essex University, where the lecture has already been given a title by Sir Richard of "The Export Control System and the Abuse of Power".

Over the next few months, he says, he would be giving lectures around the country. They will each "deal with one of the subjects dealt with by the report."

Also, in a thinly-veiled warning to his Tory snipers, he said: "I shall react as I react, if someone stamps on my foot, I shall stamp on his."

Sir Richard admitted there were things that, if he could have his time again, he would do differently. In particular, he said, towards the end of his inquiry he became aware of some important witnesses who had not been examined in public at oral hearings. It was too late, he said, to have re-convened the public sessions.

The judge emphasised, however, that he would not change any of the procedures which have been so vehemently criticised by Lord Howe. On one point, that the inquiry into the Aberfan disaster in which 114 people died, took nine months to complete, whereas the arms-to-Iraq, where no one had died, had lasted more than three years, Scott was unrepentant. "It is superficial and absurd to judge the length of an inquiry by how many people died."

In his interview on BBC2 last night, Sir Charles Powell said he was certain ministers would be cleared. "It seems to me there were just two issues which are really crucial in this whole affair.

"First of all, was there a conspiracy between ministers and the Attorney- General to send innocent men to prison? I'm sure there was not. And I'm sure [Sir Richard] Scott will find there was not.

"Secondly, did we, against our guidelines, sell weapons, lethal weapons, to Iraq and Iran? And again, there is no evidence whatsoever that that happened."