Godric Smith, one of Tony Blair's official spokesmen, denied yesterday that Downing Street staff tried to "second- guess" intelligence officials, despite a series of e-mails being sent from No 10 suggesting changes to the Iraq dossier.
Mr Smith insisted Mr Blair's communications team tried to strip out "rhetoric" from the dossier and concentrate on its dry intelligence. But the Hutton inquiry was shown a fresh batch of Downing Street e-mails that revealed the close involvement of officials in the run-up to the report's final publication on 24 September.
One from the Downing Street press officer Danny Pruce said: "Much of the evidence we have is largely circumstantial.'' Another from Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications, to Mr Pruce, said: "Our aim should be to convey the impression that things have not been static [in Iraq].''
An e-mail from Tom Kelly, the other official spokesman for the Prime Minister, to Mr Campbell, said a draft of the dossier had "one central weakness. We do not differentiate enough between capacity and intent. We know [Saddam] is a bad man and has done bad things in the past. We know he is trying to get WMD and this shows those attempts are intensifying. But can we show why we think he intends to use them aggressively, rather than in self-defence. We need that to counter the argument that Saddam is bad, but not mad," Mr Kelly wrote.
Yet another e-mail, from Philip Bassett, a senior special adviser at No 10, to Mr Smith, states: "Agree with Godric ... It needs to end. At the moment it just stops. A conclusion, saying something - making a case which is compelling. At the moment, it isn't."
Another e-mail from Mr Smith to Mr Campbell makes clear that Julian Miller, the deputy head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, wanted officials in No 10 to comment on a draft dossier. "Julian Miller rang me and said that he would like to come and show someone the latest thinking on the dossier tomorrow without getting any circulating copies just so as they are on the right track." Mr Smith, who is leaving the No 10 press office in the autumn, said that he and Downing Street officials were merely making observations.
He said: "The person whose judgement was important here and was at all times, was the Prime Minister's.''
He was asked by Peter Knox, junior counsel to the inquiry, why so many people in No 10 were involved in this "loop of e-mails''. He said that "an awful lot of work" was needed to make the document ready for publication, but that he and his colleagues were only interested in the presentation, not in changing intelligence assessments.
Mr Smith also disclosed that he had discovered Mr Campbell had planned on 7 July to leak the news that an MoD official had admitted meeting Mr Gilligan.
The day after Mr Campbell "floated" the idea, Mr Smith described to the inquiry how a group of senior officials had gathered in his Downing Street office to compile a press statement disclosing that an unnamed official had come forward as the possible source of the BBC story.
Those present included a raft of key players, including Mr Campbell, Sir Kevin Tebbit, the Permanent Under Secretary at the MoD, John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the No 10 Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell.
"I think it was basically the collective view that we had reached the point where we were going to have to put this in the public domain," he said.
However, Mr Smith distanced himself from the decision taken by the MoD to confirm Dr Kelly's identity to journalists who put forward the correct name.
"From my perspective, this was a very sensitive personnel issue that was being handled by a Whitehall department and which directly affected the Downing Street communications directorate," he said.
"I would not think it appropriate to inject myself in that level of detail into the process."
Today at the Hutton Inquiry
Today, Lord Hutton will hear evidence from the following witnesses:
Donald Anderson, MP, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Nick Rufford, Sunday Times journalist
James Blitz, Financial Times journalist
Richard Norton-Taylor, Guardian journalist
Tom Baldwin, Times journalist
Ambassador David Broucher, Permanent Representative to the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Lee Hughes, Hutton inquiry Secretariat