Hoon criticised for saying Kelly was 'no martyr'

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, came in for renewed criticism yesterday after he was accused of prejudging Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of the government scientist David Kelly.

Mr Hoon, widely seen as the most likely casualty of the Hutton report, which is to be published next week, reportedly told friends that Dr Kelly was "no martyr" and killed himself because he feared being exposed as a liar. The alleged remarks raised eyebrows among his fellow ministers, who have been ordered by Downing Street not to pre-empt Lord Hutton's long-awaited report.

The comments echoed the controversy that erupted after Tom Kelly, Tony Blair's official spokesman, described Dr Kelly as a "Walter Mitty" figure.

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Hoon told friends last week that he was angry at the effect that Dr Kelly's actions had had on senior officials at the Ministry of Defence. He reportedly said: "Good people like Richard Hatfield [personnel director] and Pam Teare [director of news] have had their reputations traduced. Why? Because of this man's [Dr Kelly's] actions. What if they had killed themselves?" The MoD declined to comment last night, saying it was waiting for the Hutton report.

But the Tories renewed their demand for Mr Hoon to resign. Nicholas Soames, the shadow Defence Secretary, told Sky's Sunday with Adam Boulton programme: "The conduct of the Government is all of a piece, of bullying and misleading, and I have no doubt that Hutton will show that this is the case. I believe that his [Mr Hoon's] behaviour over this has been lamentable, I think his performance as Secretary of State for Defence has been pretty inadequate and I think it is about time that he considered his position."

Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, appeared to offer his cabinet colleague less than wholehearted support on the same programme. Asked if Mr Hoon should resign, Mr Hain said: "We will just take issues as they come."

Mr Hain said the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts, who was shot dead in Iraq three days after handing back his protective body armour, was a tragedy which should not have happened and praised his widow, Samantha, for her campaign over his death. She is to meet Mr Hoon today.

Yesterday, Mr Hoon was criticised by another Iraq war widow, Tracey Pritchard, whose husband, Dewi, a Territorial Army Corporal, was shot in Basra in an unarmoured vehicle three days after complaining that he and his colleagues should have been supplied with an armoured version. She said: "Dewi said the vehicles they had out there were not fit for the purpose."

Mr Hoon faces further criticism over equipment shortages in Iraq from the all-party Commons Defence Select Committee. The Independent on Sunday disclosed that MPs would censure the Defence Secretary next month for delaying significant procurements due to their political sensitivity.

Panorama, the BBC's current affairs programme, will broadcast a special investigation this week which is critical of the corporation's role in the events leading to the Hutton inquiry. "A Fight to the Death" contains criticisms of the BBC in its account of the dispute between the Government and the corporation, which was sparked by a report by Andrew Gilligan, the BBC Today programme's defence correspondent, alleging that there was concern in the intelligence services about the Government's pre-war dossier on Iraqi weapons.

The programme will be presented on Wednesday evening by John Ware, a senior reporter who is a former colleague of Tom Mangold, a former Panorama veteran and a close friend of Dr Kelly, the weapons inspector who was identified as the source of Mr Gilligan's report.

Mr Mangold, who worked as a senior reporter on Panorama from 1976 until 2002, was the only journalist present at Dr Kelly's funeral last July after he apparently committed suicide.

The 90-minute investigation is expected to be especially critical of Mr Gilligan, according to reports, and is said to have sparked tensions between BBC staff. A BBC spokeswoman said the investigation "may well be critical of Gilligan. It may well be critical of all the parties involved", suggesting that the Government would not be completely exonerated.