Government 'played Russian roulette' with Kelly's life, says counsel for family

Martin Howard, Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence
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Indy Politics

The family of Dr David Kelly accused the Government yesterday of playing Russian roulette with his life in a cynical and irresponsible propaganda campaign to shore up the crumbling credibility of its Iraq arms dossier.

In a day of recriminations and accusations at the Hutton inquiry, counsel for Dr Kelly's widow and daughters accused the Ministry of Defence of deceit and betrayal in exposing his identity while failing to take into account the devastating psychological effect on the weapons scientist.

Lord Hutton also heard fresh evidence of how dissent among senior members of the intelligence community over the dossier was suppressed, while Tony Blair and his ministers declared to the House of Commons and parliamentary committees that no such problem existed.

The man whose name has been linked to much of the controversial revelations, Martin Howard, the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence, was the first witness to be cross-examined as the inquiry moved to a new phase.

The second phase allows evidence given at earlier hearings to be challenged, and they are likely to be more hostile. But few could have expected the proceedings to start in such an incendiary way.

Mr Howard was subjected to ferocious questioning from Jeremy Gompertz, QC for the Kelly family, and only slightly less acerbic sessions from Andrew Caldecott, QC for the BBC, and James Dingemans, QC for the inquiry.

Mr Howard said the strategy which led to Dr Kelly's name being confirmed to the media came from Downing Street. He said he "deprecated" briefings denigrating the scientist from Tom Kelly, the Prime Minister's official spokesman. Mr Gompertz accused Mr Howard and the Ministry of Defence of playing "parlour games" in allowing journalists to offer a string of names before confirming the correct one.

"A game, perhaps, of 20 questions? Or in the case of The Times, 21?" asked Mr Gompertz, referring to the number of attempts newspapers used to try to discover the name. Mr Howard replied: "We are not responsible for how the media put their questions." Mr Gompertz asked: "Oh, it was more like a game of Russian roulette?" The DIS chief, shaking his head, said in a barely audible voice: "No, it was not that either."

Counsel continued: "I suggest to you that the strategy that was adopted with regard to Dr Kelly's name was both cynical and irresponsible. What have you got to say?" Mr Howard responded: "I would disagree with that completely." Mr Gompertz asked: "Do you not agree that Dr Kelly was treated shabbily in relation to this episode?" "No, I do not agree," said Mr Howard.

Mr Howard asked whether naming Dr Kelly was a strategy to get him in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee in order to discredit claims by the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan that the Government had "sexed up" the Iraq dossier. He answered: "Not in my case, no."

Mr Howard was asked whether the MoD had considered the psychological pressure Dr Kelly would be under if his name was made public, and whether there had been a risk assessment. He said no assessment had been done and added: "We realised that if his name became public, which seemed very likely, he would come under pressure." Mr Howard agreed that a briefing by Mr Kelly helped journalists track down the scientist. Mr Kelly produced several new clues about Dr Kelly on the afternoon of 9 July, describing an MoD official who had come forward as a possible source of Gilligan's report as a "technical expert" whose salary was paid by a department other than the MoD.

Mr Howard said that such fresh details, when combined with other information, "may well have helped" the media identify Dr Kelly.

Mr Dingemans said the off the record briefings suggested that "there was a desire to get Dr Kelly's name out into the open and to say he had nothing to do with the dossier".

Mr Howard said he would "personally deprecate" any off the record briefings about Dr Kelly. Mr Dingemans said: "The briefing of the journalists rather suggests there was more of a plan or strategy, does it not?"

Mr Howard replied: "It could be interpreted that way, but I knew nothing of that."