Adviser ignored warnings about exports to Iraq: Official failed to read reports, inquiry told

Click to follow
The Independent Online
REPEATED BLUNDERS by a senior trade official led to British- made machine tools being exported to Iraq in breach of government guidelines and despite successive intelligence warnings they were destined for Baghdad's ballistic missile programme, the Scott Inquiry was told yesterday.

Anthony Steadman, former head of the Department of Trade and Industry's export licensing unit, admitted failing to read crucial intelligence reports, ignoring procedures for approving exports of defence-related equipment to Iraq and consistently giving wrong information to ministers.

Lord Justice Scott suggested that Mr Steadman, who blamed 'intense and unrelenting' pressure of work for the errors, had a 'cavalier' approach to his duties.

Despite being sent successive intelligence reports linking the Coventry machine tools company Matrix Churchill to Iraqi weapons projects, Mr Steadman claimed he did not 'pick up' on any of them.

Government records showed one report revealing Matrix Churchill exports going to an Iraqi missile programme codenamed Project 1728 were sent to Mr Steadman who claimed he had no recollection of receiving them.

'I can't think I actually read it. I was extremely busy throughout the whole of this period . . . Things would just get scanned when perhaps more attention should have been paid to them,' he said.

His failure to read reports meant he did not warn DTI ministers that four Matrix Churchill orders worth pounds 6m were destined for the missile programme. He wrongly advised on several occasions that there was no evidence that the exports were for military purposes and recommended they be allowed to go.

In 1989, he received a classified report from GCHQ, a government listening post, warning that a UK firm was supplying 24 pieces of equipment to Iraq to make fuses. The DTI was considering a Matrix Churchill export application for 24 machining centres but he failed to realise the two were connected.

After requesting the name of the company involved he failed to read properly the subseqent report containing the information. He claimed he missed it because he did not turn over to the second page of the document.

Mr Steadman also issued Matrix Churchill temporary licences to export equipment at a Baghdad exhibition without consulting or getting authority from ministers or the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. He also issued licences because companies involved were in a hurry.

'I took the decision we should circumvent the procedures in this case because it did seem a sensible approach given the cumbersome nature of the control procedures that we had to go through,' he said.

Unless officials were prepared to issue such licences at short notice, British firms would be unable to exhibit their products overseas, he said. 'There would have been a lot of damage to British industry and to UK Limited if we did that.'