Blair escapes recall by Hutton despite proclaiming buck stopped with him

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair avoided being recalled to the Hutton inquiry yesterday, disappointing the relatives of David Kelly, who are believed to have wanted him to be cross-examined.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's director of communications, and John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), have been summoned by Lord Hutton to answer more questions. Andrew Gilligan, defence correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Richard Sambrook, head of news at the corporation and Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC governors, have also been recalled.

But the Prime Minister, who said during his evidence to the inquiry that he accepted full responsibility for Dr Kelly's identity being disclosed - in direct contradiction to his statement at the time of the scientist's death - will not return. Mr Blair had declared "categorically" and "emphatically" that he had played no part in the process of Dr Kelly being named when news of his death was first reported in July. However, he acknowledged at the inquiry that he had chaired a series of meetings at Downing Street where the strategy was discussed.

He said that he was kept fully informed of important developments. Last week Dr Kelly's family held discussions with their legal team on the possibility of requesting that the Prime Minister be recalled.

Mr Blair could have been asked about eight of the 15 crucial points which James Dingemans QC, counsel for the inquiry, said yesterday lay at the heart of the matter. He said that the points would be explored in the next phase of the inquiry. As the man who ordered the dossier to be produced, Mr Blair could have been cross-examined on the very first point: "How was the dossier of 24 September 2002 prepared and who was responsible for drafting it."

Yesterday, the inquiry heard more evidence that severely undermined the September dossier - Mr Blair's justification for joining the United States' invasion of Iraq. Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, admitted that the most alarming allegation in the document, that Saddam Hussein could launch chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, was misleading because it related to short-range battlefield weapons, and not long-range strategic missiles.

Sir Richard, asked if it had been given undue prominence, said: "I think, given the misinterpretation that was placed on the 45-minute intelligence, with the benefit of hindsight you can say that is a valid criticism but I am confident the intelligence was accurate and that the use of it was entirely consistent with the original report."

The former head of the Defence Intelligence Service, Air Marshal Sir Joe French, told the inquiry that he had dismissed formal complaints made by staff about the dossier. Sir Joe, and his deputy Tony Cragg, told the inquiry that they had received three letters, but had failed to pass them on to the JIC.