Hoon called to explain contradictions in Kelly evidence

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Indy Politics

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, faces tough questioning today over apparent contradictions between his comments after David Kelly's death and evidence given to the Hutton inquiry.

Mr Hoon will come out fighting when he appears at the inquiry but is widely seen as the most likely "fall guy" in the Government for the Kelly affair. The day after Dr Kelly was found dead, Mr Hoon was asked on BBC Radio 4 who gave the government scientist's name to the press. He replied: "I certainly can only speak on my behalf and I can assure you that it was not my responsibility." In other interviews, Mr Hoon said the Ministry of Defence "made great efforts" to maintain Dr Kelly's anonymity. "I'm not aware that his name was leaked," he said.

But the inquiry has been told that the Defence Secretary approved the highly unusual "guessing game" under which his officials would confirm Dr Kelly's identity if journalists put his name to them, after the MoD announced that an official had admitted he had met the BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan.

The Hutton inquiry has also been told that Mr Hoon initially wanted Dr Kelly's identity to be disclosed in an attempt to discredit Mr Gilligan's report that Downing Street had "sexed up" a government dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Mr Hoon will also face questions on other actions he took that might have added to the pressure Dr Kelly was under. In particular, the minister will be asked why he overruled Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MoD's most senior official, to insist that the weapons expert appear before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

Documents disclosed to the inquiry reveal that the Defence Secretary warned that it would be "presentationally" difficult for the Government to defend itself if Dr Kelly gave evidence in private.

The Defence Secretary also wanted Dr Kelly to be interviewed by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, suggesting that its hearing be held in public for the first time. Initially, he favoured strong action against Dr Kelly over what he regarded as a disciplinary matter, even though Sir Kevin adopted a more sympathetic approach because the scientist had come forward to admit he had met Mr Gilligan. Mr Hoon proposed a form of "plea bargain" with Dr Kelly, but this was not taken up.

Allies of Mr Hoon have dismissed reports that he is ready to "fall on his sword" after the Hutton inquiry reports. They insist that he believes he acted appropropriately and in accordance with the MoD's procedures.

The Defence Secretary will admit including the name of Dr Kelly in a letter to Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, before his identity became public but will insist that it was included "in confidence", as was known at the time.

Shortly after Dr Kelly's death, Mr Hoon said: "I don't believe I gave done anything that requires me to apologise. But what I do recognise as the Secretary of State for Defence is that I am responsible for all those within the MoD, including obviously Dr Kelly. It is a matter I take very seriously and very personally."