Scott: My assistant was threatened

Scott says report was 'twisted' by ministers
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Sir Richard Scott yesterday startled MPs by claiming his assistant, Christopher Muttukumaru, was threatened that his career as a civil servant might suffer if he continued to help the judge's arms to Iraq inquiry.

Sir Richard told the Commons Public Service Select Committee of the hostility his inquiry faced as it completed its marathon three year probe into the darker recesses of Whitehall. News of the attempted intimidation will fuel Opposition claims Sir Richard was leaned on to produce a report less damaging to the Government.

In his only appearance before MPs to answer questions on his report published two months ago, Sir Richard also gave a damning critique of ministers' response to his report.

He refused to reveal who had made the threat to Mr Muttukumaru, but said it was "a senior person". Sir Richard complained and he said "It was satisfactorily dealt with - my concerns were laid to rest".

He said the threat was that "Christopher Muttukumaru's career might suffer from the assistance he was giving me".

The warning was mentioned obliquely in a letter he sent to Ian Lang, the President of the Board of Trade, accompanying publication of his report. "Those concerned knew to what I was referring," said Sir Richard. "I am not prepared to go into it in public."

In his letter to Mr Lang, the judge paid tribute to Mr Muttukumaru, describing him as "a tower of strength". His assistant had acted as the inquiry's front-man with Whitehall: "In doing so he has often had to deal with officials of a rank senior to his own, as well as with ministers, former ministers and senior Opposition spokesmen. Those who have dealt with him . . . have come to understand that he cannot be intimidated."

In another blow to the Government, Sir Richard said the press pack it produced to head-off criticism when the report was published was distorted. Faced with a series of answers to Dr Tony Wright, the Labour MP, he presented a completely contradictory view of his findings from that of the official media briefing. He was asked, "Did something constitutionally improper happen?" Sir Richard replied, forcefully, "yes".

Dr Wright asked: "Did ministers behave in a way they shouldn't have behaved?" Sir Richard again replied "yes". The judge was asked: "Was Parliament denied information constitutionally it ought to have had?" Again, he replied "yes".

Finally, he was asked if the Cabinet Office press hand-out claiming ministers were found by his report to have given accurate descriptions of policy on arms sales to Iran and Iraq was accurate? Sir Richard replied: "I don't think so, no."

Opposition MPs reacted with anger to the press pack, which in the absence of a summary from Sir Richard acted as an

easy to read guide for many commentators, claiming it was misrepresentative. Yesterday, Sir Richard upheld their view.

However, the judge refused to agree with Opposition claims the fall-out from his report had been disappointing. He had, he said, not been expecting any ministerial heads to roll. Resignations, he said, arose from a build- up of political pressure.

While he accepted the official press pack had been a distortion, he declared himself satisfied with the quality of the Commons' debate on his report which resulted in a narrow victory for the Government.

t Paul Grecian, the Ordtechbusinessman who successfully fought moves by the US to extradite him on arms-to-Iraq charges, intends to sue Customs and Excise and the American authorities.

On his return from South Africa, where he has spent five months fighting extradition, Mr Grecian said he would be examining the Scott report and its comments on his case. Mr Grecian's conviction in 1992 of supplying a fuse assembly line to Iraq was quashed because the Government withheld evidence.