Blair's U-turn as he admits central role in naming Kelly

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Tony Blair was forced to admit yesterday that he was personally responsible for Dr David Kelly's identity being disclosed, in direct contradiction to his denial at the time of the scientist's death.

During his much-awaited, historic appearance before the Hutton inquiry, the Prime Minister conceded his central role in the process that led to Dr Kelly's name being confirmed to the media.

The hearing was also told that Mr Blair was the first member of his administration to reveal outside Whitehall that an official had come forward as the source of the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan's claim that the Government had "sexed up" the Iraq weapons dossier. He broke the news to Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, in a telephone call early on the morning of Sunday 7 July, more than 24 hours before the information was made public in a press statement issued by the Ministry of Defence. Mr Davies refused Mr Blair's request to retract Mr Gilligan's report.

During, by the Prime Minister's own account, an extremely busy time for him in both domestic politics and international diplomacy, he found the time to "scan" the MoD press statement, after it had been passed to his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. He also chaired a series of meetings in Downing Street solely to discuss what to do about Dr Kelly.

What was decided at the meetings set off the chain of events that was to lead to the public exposure of Dr Kelly to an intense media spotlight, to his appearance before two parliamentary committees and to his death.

Mr Blair told the inquiry that he had been guided by senior civil servants over the affair. But he added: "The responsibility is mine, at the end of the day. I take the decision as Prime Minister, but I wanted to be able to say that we had played it by the book."

Just over five weeks ago, on learning of Dr Kelly's apparent suicide during an official flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong, the Prime Minister had "categorically" and "emphatically" denied he had played a part in revealing the scientist's name.

Mr Blair, his ministers and spokesmen had subsequently declared that the Ministry of Defence had been left to handle Dr Kelly after he volunteered the fact that he had discussed last September's Iraq dossier with Mr Gilligan.

Four days after Dr Kelly was discovered dead in an Oxfordshire wood, the Prime Minister's official spokesman was still insisting that the MoD was the "lead department" in working out the strategy over Dr Kelly and that this had been done under "normal MoD procedure".

But the Prime Minister, under questioning, conceded that no one was even present from the MoD at a crucial meeting on 8 July, chaired by him, in which the decision was taken to issue a statement about a civil servant coming forward as Mr Gilligan's contact. He also acknowledged there was no such thing as "normal MoD procedure" in this unusual situation.

Present at the meeting were Mr Blair's communications director, Alastair Campbell, the No 10 chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, the foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, the Cabinet Office intelligence and security co-ordinator, Sir David Omand, and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett.

Mr Blair said: "My concern was to get that information, not concealed but out there so no one could say afterwards that this was something you were trying to cover up. That was the view of the meeting."