The top civil servant at the Ministry of Defence told the Hutton inquiry today that Tony Blair was ''following very, very closely indeed" whether government scientist David Kelly should be named publicly.
Sir Kevin Tebbit, permanent secretary at the MoD, had recommended to Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon that Dr Kelly should not have to give evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, but was overruled.
Referring to the Prime Minister's interest, Sir Kevin told the inquiry :"The implication was that he (Prime Minister) did want something done about this individual coming forward.
He added: "This was a massive issue. I do not think one can under-estimate the importance of the charge levelled against the Government as perceived by ministers, by my minister Geoff Hoon, and by Number 10.
"It is very difficult for the Government to proceed and be judged by the public on the basis of an anonymous source," Sir Kevin said.
Lord Hutton's inquiry is investigating the circumstances leading up to Dr Kelly's apparent suicide last month, after he had been revealed as the source of a BBC report claiming that Downing Street had "sexed up" its dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to strengthen the case for war.
He said there was never any suggestion that reached him that Dr Kelly felt he was being put under duress or that he was not co-operating.
James Dingemans QC, counsel to the inquiry asked Sir Kevin whether he had any view about whether Dr Kelly's name should be made public.
Sir Kevin said: "I started from the premise that it was inevitable that his name would become public at some stage. He had implied as much in his earlier letter."
Sir Kevin told the inquiry that he had learned subsequently "that knowledge that Dr Kelly had meetings with Andrew Gilligan (BBC Radio 4 Today programme's defence correspondent) was being discussed at cocktail parties that officers in the MoD were having".
Lord Hutton asked Sir Kevin whether naming the source in public would have been a "much more effective way" of dealing with the charges levelled at the Government.
Sir Kevin replied: "Indeed, that is a point of truth and credibility."
In a meeting on July 7 with Sir David Omand, the Cabinet Office intelligence and security co-ordinator, Sir Kevin said if Dr Kelly was to give evidence in relation to the 45-minute warning, it might prove uncomfortable for the Government.
He was asked by Lord Hutton how he knew what Dr Kelly would say in relation to that issue.
Sir Kevin replied that in Dr Kelly's letter when he stepped forward he had said he was not aware of any weapon within the Iraqi arsenal that could be initiated within 45 minutes.
Sir Kevin pointed out to the hearing that although Dr Kelly's evidence would have proved uncomfortable, it demonstrated that the Government was not hiding anything from the public.
If Dr Kelly's opinions had been suppressed, "we would have been accused of a cover-up", Sir Kevin added.
Mr Dingemans then referred to the "Q&A" which allowed MoD press officers to give certain details about Dr Kelly. This document accompanied a press statement on July 8 announcing that an official had come forward.
Sir Kevin said he was aware of the Q&A but had only "glanced through it".
Asked if Dr Kelly was aware of the document, Sir Kevin said: "I am sure he did not see the Q&A."
Referring to the Q&A, Mr Dingemans said: "It does seem, reading this, and certainly we are likely to hear this from journalists, that once you have got these clues it is not going to be very difficult to identify Dr Kelly."
Sir Kevin said: "These were not intended to be clues."
Mr Dingemans asked: "Do you think Dr Kelly should have been made aware of this Q&A?"
Sir Kevin replied: "My own view was that we should get to a situation where Dr Kelly would put his name to a document where he would say 'this is me, this is my story'.
"It was felt in the MoD, Number 10 and the Cabinet Office that it was necessary for a statement to be made.
"There was a very strong feeling that we needed to come forward with this information."
Asked from where this feeling originated, Sir Kevin said: "It was a collective view of Sir David Omand, John Scarlett,(chairman of the joint intelligence committee) the Prime Minister, it was one that I did not disagree with."
Lord Hutton read out the conclusions and recommendations of the Commons Forteign Affairs Committee report before asking Sir Kevin to read the BBC statement published after the findings.
As a result of both these documents, it appeared that, broadly speaking, the Government had been exonerated over the Andrew Gilligan allegations.
He then asked Sir Kevin why it was that - with the allegations effectively null and void - Dr Kelly's name was still to be released, given that it was likely to place considerable stress and pressure on the weapons inspector.
Sir Kevin replied: "I think the pressure and strain issue was not one that we were aware of.
"Dr Kelly, as far as I was aware, accepted the process that he was involved in."
Sir Kevin went on to say that the absolution of the Government was not strong enough to clear the Government completely as far as the public was concerned and the source was needed to clarify the issue.
Lord Hutton then asked whether Dr Kelly's indiscretion had been part of the motivation to "out" him in public.
Sir Kevin strongly denied this and said: "That was not the main consideration here. It was difficult to see how the record could be clarified without Dr Kelly coming forward."
Sir Kevin added: "Our officials do appear before committees all the time and of various levels of seniority."
Lord Hutton asked why Dr Kelly's name was not put in the MoD statement that was issued if it was now considered he was the source after the results of the second interview.
Sir Kevin said they were still awaiting responses from the BBC. Mr Hatfield had not, at that point, put to Dr Kelly whether they should name him in the statement.
He added: "The approach that we took did give Dr Kelly more time to prepare for the inevitable, 24 hours as it turned out."
Mr Dingemans asked Sir Kevin if he knew any more about the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly's death.
Sir Kevin said: "I have thought long and hard about this issue, as you can imagine.
"As permanent secretary, I felt a deep sense of responsibility - not of culpability, but responsibility in this area since he was a member of my staff and so his death came as a terrible shock."
Sir Kevin continued: "I have thought long and hard about the approach that was taken, whether it was reasonable to ensure that Dr Kelly came forward to tell his story."
Mr Dingemans turned to two now widely-known letters between Sir Kevin and Mr Hoon, regarding Dr Kelly's appearance before the ISC and FAC inquiries.
Mr Dingemans highlighted comments made by Sir Kevin in his letter to Mr Hoon on July 10 where he recommended that there should be resistance to Dr Kelly appearing before the FAC as it would "attach disproportionate importance to him".
He also highlighted Sir Kevin's comments that they should "show some regard to the man himself" and that he had come forward voluntarily and was not on trial.
Sir Kevin told the inquiry: "I was saying we should show some regard for the man himself. He did come forward voluntarily.
"He was quite robust. He did deal with journalists quite regularly... He was not naive in this area.
"Nevertheless, he would be thrust in the public eye. It was not a trial and it seemed reasonable to ask the FAC to show some restraint."
Mr Dingemans then turned to Mr Hoon's reply of the following day which acknowledged some of Sir Kevin's concerns but said it would be "presentationally" difficult to defend a position of objecting to Dr Kelly appearing before the FAC.
Asked what he thought of Mr Hoon's response, Sir Kevin said: "I acquiesced. It's perfectly reasonable. It's for ministers to decide who appears before committees, not for officials.
"That was the secretary of state's prerogative and I accepted it."
Sir Kevin said there was no further discussion with Mr Hoon on that matter.Reuse content