The Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of scientist Dr David Kelly resumes tomorrow amid further political wrangling and a government faced with the prospect of embarrassing revelations from senior intelligence agents.
On the eve of the inquiry's first full week, Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, demanded an apology from the Prime Minister for No 10's briefing against Dr Kelly.
He said the briefing, portraying Dr Kelly as a "Walter Mitty" character, should not be dismissed as an unauthorised mistake. "It is what 10 Downing Street has been doing for far too long," he said. "Malicious briefings are part of their culture and Tom Kelly [the Prime Minister's official spokesman] was only presenting the agreed counter-attack briefing. The fault line goes right to the top. It is Mr Blair who must apologise."
The Hutton inquiry, likely to be protracted and potentially damaging for the Government, the BBC, the security services and Dr Kelly's family, is to hear from its first witness tomorrow.
This week Lord Hutton will listen to the evidence of the three BBC journalists who used Dr Kelly as a source - Andrew Gilligan, Susan Watts and Gavin Hewitt - as well as the corporation's director of news, Richard Sambrook.
Tomorrow, Julian Miller, a senior official in the intelligence and security secretariat at the Cabinet Office, is expected to give evidence. He was part of the liaison team between No 10 and the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) while the Iraq dossiers were being compiled. Mr Gilligan - allegedly on the say-so of Dr Kelly - reported that the dossiers had been "sexed up" at Alastair Campbell's insistence. Another witness will be Martin Howard, deputy chief of defence intelligence at the Ministry of Defence.
The head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, and the chairman of the JIC, John Scarlett, have not been called. A Whitehall source said: "There is no indication as yet whether [they] are going to be asked. If they were I am sure they would co-operate as fully as possible."
Reports that Sir Richard, who steps down next year, was retiring early as head of MI6 have been firmly dismissed, as have claims that he is leaving because he is angry with Mr Blair. Sources close to British intelligence say the MI6 chief is reasonably confident that MI6 will emerge from the debacle without too much damage to its reputation.
John Scarlett, however, may be embarrassed by the inquiry over his involvement in the production of the September dossier. He has already been criticised for allowing Mr Campbell to chair the meeting that decided on the final nature of the dossier.
Government ministers, too, are expecting a renewed backlash over the affair. There have already been calls from within the Labour Party for Mr Blair, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and Mr Campbell to resign. Peter Kilfoyle, the former defence minister, today writes in The Independent on Sunday that ministers could be in for a rough ride at the party conference this autumn: "An increasing number of habitually loyal backbenchers, questioning what will happen to their re-election chances, will complement a new generation of trade union leaders already railing at the government as its attitude towards them swings between indifference and hostility. Between them, they have the power to put an end to the sterile culture of spin, and reconnect with Labour values."
In Mr Duncan Smith's statement, the Tory leader reiterates his belief that the processes leading up to the September dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are "inseparable" from Dr Kelly's death. He said the Government's credibility depended on as wide and open an inquiry as possible.Reuse content