Findings not supported by the evidence, lawyers say

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Indy Politics

Lord Hutton's final conclusions into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly were one-sided and were not supported by all the evidence given to his inquiry, lawyers said yesterday.

There was also disquiet among the legal profession that a senior and respected judge had been used as a political tool to settle what had begun as a dispute between the BBC and the Government. Some of the most serious criticism was made by Alan Levy QC, who chaired the influential 1991 "Pindown" inquiry into the abuse of children in local authority homes.

He said: "I was surprised by his conclusions because I do think it was rather one-sided. I expected it to be critical of Whitehall and the Government because of the evidence submitted. I think whitewash might be too strong but I'm uneasy that criticism was not attached to other parties. It seems the BBC has every reason to cry foul."

Louise Christian, a solicitor representing some of the British Guantanamo detainees, said she was astonished how Lord Hutton had "explained away" the 15 changes Alastair Campbell had asked to be made to the dossier. "This was much more than a subconscious influence being exercised."

Ms Christian, who has appeared at several inquiries chaired by judges, described Hutton's report as "very badly written, reproducing large chunks of evidence that did not marry up to the evidence".

Mr Levy, whose inquiry was set up by the Department of Health and heard 75 days of evidence from 100 witnesses, added: "I would have liked the terms of reference to have been widened to take account of whether we rightly went to war. Was the intelligence there for people's lives to be put at risk?"

Matthias Kelly QC, a former chairman of the Bar, said the time had come to end the custom of making sitting judges chairmen of politically sensitive public inquiries. "I am far from convinced it's a very good idea for serving judges to conduct such inquiries because they are highly politicised. It would be far better if the Government used retired judges on such occasions." But he said the conclusions drawn by Lord Hutton were a matter for him and were ones on which he did not wish to comment.

One retired law lord said some of these issues would be taken up during a House of Lords debate this month. "I think a number of retired judges will want to raise concerns about the way the inquiry came about," he said.

Peter Carter QC, chairman of the Bar's human rights committee, said he was "rather horrified" when he heard the judge's conclusions. But he said for the first time the public were able to hear the evidence about how the "information was manipulated and how governments operate". He added: "Lord Hutton's final conclusions are persuasive but not definitive."

He also said he thought the inquiry's terms were too narrowly drawn. "The issue lawyers wanted addressed was the legitimacy of going to war." But he said he made no criticism of Lord Hutton's conduct of the inquiry, which he said was fair and open.

Stephen Irwin QC, the chairman of the Bar, said Lord Hutton was "professionally and judicially very highly regarded" and reached his conclusions after hearing all the evidence, some of which was given in private. He asked: "What do think the media would be staying about his standing if he had delivered a judgment against the Government?"