Clark 'ignorant' on witness statements: Ex-minister signed trial papers without knowing charges

ALAN CLARK, the former minister for defence procurement, yesterday admitted signing witness statements for the prosecution of British businessmen without finding out what charges they faced.

He told the Scott inquiry into the sale of arms to Iraq that he agreed and signed a witness statement for the prosecution of three executives from the Matrix Churchill company which had been drawn up by Customs officials who came to interview him.

He claimed he did not realise he was being interviewed for a witness statement and did not recall being asked any questions about his knowledge of the case. Mr Clark denied that an important sentence in his statement, which was a cornerstone of the Customs case against the businessmen, was misleading. He said it contained an 'element of sleight of hand'.

After the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial last year at the Old Bailey, Mr Clark was questioned by police about apparent discrepancies between his witness statement and court evidence, although he was never charged. Mr Clark said he considered the statement to be 'almost a formality' and thought the prosecution 'so ridiculous nothing would happen'.

He later signed a second statement for the prosecution of another UK company director, without realising the charges concerned exports Mr Clark had approved as a trade minister in order to protect an intelligence source. Mr Clark said he could not have signed the statement if he had known this. Charges against the director were later dropped.

Mr Clark said he never objected to appearing as a witness but was 'sceptical' about the prosecution.

He told the inquiry someone in Whitehall should have 'gulped' when Lord Trefgarne, a former trade minister, wrote to William Waldegrave, then a Foreign Office minister, in March 1990 stating there was no evidence of UK machine tool exports to Iraq 'for anything other than civil engineering' and rejected links with ballistic missiles launched in Iraq and the discovery of triggers later found to be parts for the Iraqi supergun.

But a 'failure of liaison between several desks' meant that those aware of successive intelligence warnings that the machines were destined for Saddam Hussein's weapons plants may never have seen the letter.

He agreed with Presiley Baxendale QC, inquiry counsel, that it amounted to a 'chain of ignorance' within and between the Whitehall departments involved. Mr Clark said John Major spoke to him after a newspaper article had claimed Mr Clark encouraged machine tool manufacturers to emphasise 'civilian aspects' of exports which they knew would be used to make munitions.

'There had been calls for my resignation on the basis of what had been written. The Prime Minister assumed it would be raised under Prime Minister's Questions, and wanted to be briefed by me,' he said. A record of the two men's conversation kept by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, was altered by Mr Clark because it was 'wrong', the inquiry was told.

The minute originally suggested Mr Clark had in effect told manufacturers: 'Call it something peaceful and we won't make difficulties.'

It was claimed he had given this advice when he met machine tool companies to discuss problems caused for them by government guidelines restricting exports to Iraq.

Mr Clark told the inquiry he had not spoken to Sir Robin or anyone on his behalf and did not recognise the version of what he had told companies.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...