Hoon 'chaired the meeting that agreed Kelly naming plan'

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Indy Politics

The political future of Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, was thrown into fresh doubt yesterday after the Hutton inquiry was told he had chaired a meeting that approved releasing the name of Dr David Kelly.

Richard Taylor, Mr Hoon's special adviser, said the decision to confirm Dr Kelly's name to journalists was not opposed by the cabinet minister. In his testimony to the inquiry last week, Mr Hoon had said he was merely "aware" of advice from press officers that the scientist's identity should be made public. But Mr Taylor's evidence made clear Mr Hoon had failed to reveal he had chaired a morning media meeting, which authorised the MoD's so-called naming strategy.

The special adviser told the inquiry that himself, Mr Hoon, Peter Watkins, Mr Hoon's private secretary, and Pam Teare, the MoD director of news, had all attended the meeting on 9 July. Mr Taylor said the meeting agreed that if a journalist put Dr Kelly's name to the MoD, it could not deny he was the official who had admitted meeting Andrew Gilligan.

"There was a discussion that morning about that approach," Mr Taylor said. "We explicitly talked through [it, and] if a direct name was put to us it was agreed it would be not tenable to say, 'No', because that would be a lie. It would be unacceptable for the department to respond in that way."

The MoD was preparing its next move after extensive coverage in the media of its press statement, which gave clues to Dr Kelly's identity the day before, on 8 July. The meeting approved a plan drawn up by Ms Teare to give press officers a series of questions and answers to follow when phoned by the media, Mr Taylor said. "It was a very brief discussion. We discussed this rationale of confirming the name if it was put to us."

Mr Hoon, Mr Taylor, Ms Teare and Mr Watkins then agreed it would also be "untenable" for press officers to follow usual procedure and say "no comment" when a name was put to them. He expected that journalists would read hidden meaning in a "no comment" statement.

"If I offer a 'No comment', usually, in my experience, the immediate follow-up is, 'Does that mean you know but you are not telling me, or that you don't know?' If it is the former they take that as a tacit 'Yes'," he said. "So to offer a 'No comment' would appear to be a tacit confirmation of a name."

But when asked by James Dingemans QC, senior counsel for the inquiry, if the MoD would confirm the name of a nuclear scientist working for MI6, Mr Taylor said it would not. His evidence appears to suggest Mr Hoon had failed to tell the whole truth when asked about his personal involvement in the naming strategy.

Last week, the Defence Secretary said the question-and-answer process had been "approved within the department" without specifying he had done the approving. "I was obviously aware of the advice I had received that if the right name was given to an MoD press officer they should confirm it," Mr Hoon had said.

But by saying he had been merely "aware" of advice he had personally received, Mr Hoon ducked the issue of whether he had approved the advice of his press chief and special adviser.

Mr Taylor confirmed the media meeting had not discussed whether Dr Kelly should be informed that his identity would be revealed by the MoD to journalists.

The special adviser, who has worked for Mr Hoon since January 2001, also revealed it was his idea for the Defence Secretary to name Dr Kelly in a private letter to Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC, on 9 July. "To move forward, we should disclose the name in private in the letter," he said.

When asked by Lord Hutton why there was any need to "move forward", Mr Taylor said the Government was "trying to reconcile the differences" between it and the BBC and wanted to see if there was a way in which they could be resolved. The aim was to see "whether this official who had come forward was indeed the source to Mr Gilligan's story, and whether the BBC were confident in the reliability of their reporting of that source".

Mr Taylor said he was the first person within the Government to confirm Dr Kelly's name. He was contacted by Chris Adams, of the Financial Times, at 5.45pm on 9 July. Dr Kelly's name was in newspapers the day after.