Blair apology fails to defuse row over signed copy of Hutton report

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Conservative MPs have rejected an attempt by Tony Blair to apologise for his wife over a signed copy of the Hutton report on the death of David Kelly which was auctioned at a Labour fund-raising event.

The Prime Minister said the auction of a copy of the Hutton report, allegedly signed by Cherie Blair and Alastair Campbell, his former communications chief, was not intended to cause offence.

But the Conservative MPs kept up the pressure on the Prime Minister for a full public apology to Dr Kelly's widow and family, and payment of a donation to charity of the money raised for the Labour Party at the event at the Arts Club in Mayfair last week.

David Cameron, the Tories' leader, avoided raising the issue and left it to his own backbenchers to embarrass Mr Blair at Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Blair was challenged by Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and Whitby, who suggested that given that the Hutton report was an inquiry into the death of a public servant, the signing of copies by "celebrities" was surely inappropriate.

Mr Blair said: "I do not believe that any offence to anyone was intended." But his attempt at an apology was rejected by Stewart Jackson, the Tory MP for Peterborough, who started the parliamentary row by tabling a Commons motion saying the event was in "appalling bad taste, arrogant and crassly insensitive".

The two Labour MPs who organised the auction, Chris Bryant and James Purnell, last night said in a joint statement that they "sincerely regret" any offence caused. "We have not received any money for this item and we want to make it clear that we will not accept any," they said.

Dr Kelly, a government scientist, killed himself after being named as the source for a report by Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC reporter, alleging Downing Street had "sexed up" a dossier on Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" before Britain went to war with the US against Iraq. The Hutton report severely attacked the BBC for inaccuracies and cleared Downing Street of all the allegations.

Mr Jackson said: "It showed a lack of judgement and a sense of inappropriate triumphalism at getting one over on Hutton, on the British people and the BBC."

He said senior members of the Labour Party should have said it was insensitive and inappropriate to raise money in that way.

He wrote to Hazel Blears, the Labour Party chairman, demanding an apology and the donation of the £400 to charity.

Ed Vaisey, the Tory MP for Wantage, in south Oxfordshire, whose constituents include Dr Kelly's family, said: "I think it gave the impression the Labour Party regards the Hutton report as a triumph. My constituents regard it as a tragedy, and I thought it was in bad taste."

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