Coverage of Iraq inquiry 'grossly prejudicial': Head of the Civil Service attacks media for 'distorted' reporting. David Connett reports

SIR ROBIN BUTLER, Cabinet Secretary and head of the Home Civil Service, yesterday attacked 'grossly distorted and prejudicial' media coverage of the Scott inquiry.

Coverage had 'unfairly damaged' the system of government and the reputation of the civil service, he said.

Sir Robin made his attack in a prepared statement read out to the inquiry. He said he was supported by the head of the diplomatic service, Sir David Gillmore. A spokesman said the Prime Minister was aware of and had not objected to Sir Robin's proposal.

His statement emphasised that the task of civil servants giving evidence to the inquiry had been made 'more fraught and onerous by grossly distorted and prejudicial allegations in the media about the role of government and individuals, including civil servants, in these matters.

'While I make no criticism or complaint about the inquiry's procedures, the absence of the restraints on comment about the course of the proceedings which would apply in a court of law has permitted wild allegations and prejudging of issues in media reports.'

He complained about the way the inquiry, which is investigating the sales of millions of pounds of British defence-related exports to Iraq, was referred to as the 'arms-to-Iraq inquiry'. The Government had not authorised any weapons for export to Baghdad, he said.

He also attacked references to public interest immunity certificates, signed by ministers seeking to suppress government documents from the Matrix Churchill trial, as 'gagging orders'.

Referring to 'scrapbook items', he cited headlines about himself including: 'The Butler did it'; 'Cabinet chief linked to Iraqi gun cover- up' and 'The trail of blood running through Whitehall in the wake of the arms-to-Iraq affair leads to the door of the Cabinet Secretary' as examples of coverage.

Sir Robin also revealed prosecution lawyers and investigators in the Matrix Churchill case did not see the Cabinet Office papers until October 1992, the month the trial began and two years after the defendants were first charged.

Presiley Baxendale QC, the inquiry counsel, said: 'If Customs were to get a full picture of what was going on, surely something like these documents relating to a meeting between Mr Clark and the Prime Minister must count as something relevant Customs should see?'

Sir Robin said there had been no intention to release the documents to the court unless there was a successful application by the defence. He said that they were not 'crucial' to the case.

He also defended a decision to block two retired Ministry of Defence officials giving evidence to the House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee supergun inquiry in 1992.

Sir Robin said it was an 'established practice' that only serving officials gave evidence to Commons select committees. He claimed because ministers 'ultimately take the rap' they had a right to choose who represented them before MPs.

He also said he ordered a review of the distribution of intelligence within Whitehall following revelations at the inquiry that vital information from Britain's intelligence agencies was not being passed to relevant officials or ministers.

Sir Robin said that although select committees could force someone to appear before them, a minister could order an official, serving or retired, to refuse to answer.

Lord Justice Scott suggested that if ministers' powers to do that were ever tested in court 'I would have assumed such an arbitary use of confidentiality would not be upheld'. Sir Robin replied this was probably the reason that the Government and Parliament were anxious such matters were not dealt with by the courts.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

Investigo: Finance Analyst

£240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Server / Infrastructure Engineer (Exchange, Windows, VMware)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Serv...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Virtualisation / Cloud Infrastructure Engineer (VMware, Cloud)

£38000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Virt...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum