'Downing Street hardened up WMD dossier', inquiry told

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Indy Politics

Government weapons expert David Kelly told a BBC journalist that Downing Street had been involved in hardeninng up its dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

A tape recording of the voice of the dead scientist, who died after slashing his wrist, was played today to the Hutton inquiry which is examining the circumstances leading up to his death

Susan Watts, science editor of BBC2's Newsnight, recorded a phone conversation with Dr Kelly the day after a report on BBC Radio 4's Today programme claimed that the dossier had been "sexed up" by Downing Street.

In an earlier conversation with Dr Kelly, he had said that it was a mistake for the Government's dossier to include a claim that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be ready within 45 minutes.

On the tape, she asked him whether Alastair Campbell, Dowing Street's communications director, had pressed for the 45 minute claim to be included in the dossier.

He replied: "All I can say is the Number 10 Downing Street press office... But I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he's responsible for it."

Ms Watts told the inquiry that Dr Kelly had told her that the 45-minute claim was the cause of the row between the intelligence services, the Cabinet Office and Downing Street.

Quoting Dr Kelly, she said: "They picked up on it and once they have picked up on it, you cannot pull it back from them."

On the tape, the pair discussed another recent story in the news before turning to the Andrew Gilligan report on the September dossier. They agreed they had spoken before on the subject.

Then Ms Watts said: "You were more specific than the source on the Today programme, not that that necessarily means it was one and the same person.

"In fact, you actually referred to Alastair Campbell."

Dr Kelly said: "To you?"

Ms Watts replied: "Yes."

The next section of the tape was inaudible until Ms Watts said: "He (Gilligan) presumably decided not to name Alastair Campbell himself..."

She added later: "Are you getting much flak about that?"

Dr Kelly replied: "Me? No, I was in New York."

Earlier, Ms Watts told Lord Hutton's inquiry that said that in a conversation with Dr Kelly on 12 May, they discussed the discovery of alleged mobile weapons laboratories which had been discovered in Iraq.

Dr Kelly told her that initially he was 90 per cent certain that they were WMD laboratories, as the Americans claimed, but by the time of this conversation he was only between 40 per cent and 50 per cent certain.

He told her that coalition forces may have confused processes used in the production of pesticides for a WMD laboratory.

He also told her that "he did not think the British had a definitive position on Iraq's exact capabilities".

Describing some of the claims made by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and US President George Bush about Iraq's capabilities, he told her "it was spin".

Ms Watts said Dr Kelly told her: "The reality was that they (Iraq) had programmes - not a view they want to be heard."