Former PM 'will give evidence in public'

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Indy Politics

Sir John Chilcot has hit back at critics of his Iraq inquiry, denying that his team has been soft on the witnesses and promising that Tony Blair will be forced to give evidence in public.

The inquiry had been criticised during its first month of public hearings for being overly secretive with documents and failing to properly pin down those heavily involved in taking Britain to war. In a staunch defence of the conduct of his team, Sir John said that there had already been "valuable and illuminating evidence" produced and said that important documents would be published next year.

"We have not been trying to ambush witnesses or score points," Sir John said. "But this is a serious inquiry. We are not here to provide public sport or entertainment. The whole point of our approach has been to get to the facts. We ask fair questions and we expect full and truthful answers."

Speaking at the end of the first session of public hearings, Sir John also said that "most witnesses" had been "open and candid". Sir John Scarlett, the former head of MI6, has been accused of being misleading over the reliability of intelligence on Iraq.

He attempted to quash speculation that Mr Blair would be allowed to give evidence behind closed doors. "Evidence will only be heard in private in the narrow circumstances we have set out in the protocols on our website," he said. "But I would like to be absolutely clear about this – evidence sessions with key decision-makers, including the former Prime Minister, will be in public."

The hearings will resume in the New Year, when Mr Blair, Geoff Hoon, former Defence Secretary, and Clare Short, former International Development Secretary, will appear.