BBC calls head of MI6 to its defence in Hutton inquiry

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Indy Politics

Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, will be named in the BBC's submission to the Hutton inquiry in defence of its allegation that Downing Street "sexed up" an Iraqi weapons dossier.

Citing Sir Richard means that Lord Hutton is likely to take the highly significant step of calling Britain's intelligence chief as a witness in his forthcoming judicial inquiry after the death of Dr David Kelly.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee was not allowed to call Sir Richard or other intelligence personnel to its inquiry into the Downing Street dossiers.

Sir Richard, 57, reportedly faced "hard questioning" from MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee about the intelligence used in the dossiers, especially about Saddam Hussein's alleged attempts to obtain uranium from Niger. But the committee sits in private so no further details are available.

The Hutton inquiry is likely to ask Sir Richard about the extent of the links Dr Kelly, the main source of the BBC's allegation, had with the intelligence service.

Downing Street has maintained Dr Kelly was only a middle-ranking technician who was not privy to intelligence. But information has emerged showing Dr Kelly was Britain's foremost authority on biological weapons and had access to high level intelligence on Iraq.

After coming forward to acknowledge his meeting with Mr Gilligan, Dr Kelly was reportedly questioned by Ministry of Defence officials about whether the BBC reporter asked about any links he may have had with MI6.

Sir David Omand, who acted as the chief conduit of intelligence for Downing Street, is likely to be questioned by the inquiry about Dr Kelly's role in Downing Street's Iraq weapons dossier, as well as the decision to identify him to the media.

Sir Richard had briefed Kevin Marsh, the editor of Radio 4's Today programme, and presenter John Humphrys, at a lunch before defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan's reported alleged Downing Street interference in drawing up the report.

Sir Richard supposedly told BBC executives of disquiet within the intelligence and security services about how the Government used intelligence material in its two Iraq dossiers. This, it is believed, buttressed the Corporation's hierarchy in their combative stance with Downing Street.

At the weekend, for the first time, Mr Humphrys spoke publicly about the hostilities between the BBC and No 10, defending Mr Gilligan and predicting the Hutton inquiry would vindicate the BBC.

In an interview with the Health Secretary, John Reid, Mr Humphrys said "I have spoken to senior people in the intelligence services who have said ... the Government has exaggerated the threat from Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction." In addition, Sir Richard is believed to have briefed numerous other senior figures in the media about the dossiers. MI6 supplied the vast majority of intelligence used by Downing Street in the dossiers published last September and in February this year.

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of strategy and communications, has apologised to Sir Richard for the second, "dodgy" dossier in which a plagiarised student's thesis was passed off as intelligence.