Expert thought citing gas plant as danger was 'stupid mistake'

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David Kelly felt excluded from the preparation of the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and shared complaints about the interference of White- hall "spin merchants", a senior weapons expert said yesterday.

The chemical weapons analyst, known only as "Mr A", told the Hutton inquiry he e-mailed Dr Kelly, expressing their shared concern about the dossier and the government communications machine. He also revealed the extent of Dr Kelly's involvement in drawing up the document, telling Lord Hutton that his friend proposed 14 detailed amendments to a draft dossier in a meeting at the Ministry of Defence on 19 September, five days before it was published.

Speaking by video link from the MoD, but shielded from the view of lawyers and the press, Mr A, who works for the counter-proliferation arms control department at the MoD, said he had sent Dr Kelly an e-mail on 25 September, the day after the dossier was released.

In the e-mail, he criticised the Government for ignoring his advice not to include a reference to phosgene gas production at the plant in Al-Qa'qa, after a group of Western journalists had been escorted round it. Referring to news reports of the event, Mr A wrote: "I'm with the manager of Al-Qa'qa, 'It is a pretty stupid mistake for the British to make'. Another example supporting our view that you and I should have been more involved in this than the spin merchants of this administration."

Mr A, who knew Dr Kelly well from his work a decade ago preparing for UN weapons inspections in Iraq, told the inquiry he had discussed their lack of involvement in the dossier. He said: "We felt the UK Government was missing a trick by not including us in the loop in the preparation of Her Majesty's Government's dossier."

He added: "The perception was that the dossier had been round the houses several times in order to find a form of words that would strengthen certain political objectives."

He described how Dr Kelly invited him to a round-table meeting at the MoD on 19 September to discuss the draft dossier. "It was a page-by-page fact-checking exercise; we were going through it fairly swiftly," he said. "There were errors of detail and there were errors of emphasis, in my view."

He said he raised concerns about the inclusion of the Al-Qa'qa plant, and was told privately by one official that they were "clutching at straws". "My concerns were that it really was a non-issue and it was wrong for the Government to make such a fuss," Mr A said.

He said experts at the meeting immediately questioned the claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons "within 45 minutes". But he said no one had argued that the statement should be excluded.

He said: "I think all those of us without access to that intelligence immediately asked the question, 'Well, what does the 45 minutes refer to? Are you referring to a technical process? Are you referring to a command and control process?' And if your assessment causes you to immediately ask questions, then we felt that it was not perhaps a statement that ought to be included.

"But the discussion about it was general, and did not relate to Dr Kelly or any other person at the meeting feeling particularly that it should not have been included." Asked about Dr Kelly's attitude to the dossier, Mr A said: "Both of us believed that if you took the dossier as a whole it was a reasonable and accurate reflection of the intelligence that we had available to us at that time."

Mr A said he had last seen Dr Kelly on 10 July, the day he was named in the press as the source of Andrew Gilligan's report that the Government had "sexed up" its dossier on Iraq's weapons.