Fighting to save his political life, Geoff Hoon denied any blame yesterday over the David Kelly affair, blaming others, especially Downing Street, for the public identification of the scientist.
He told the Hutton inquiry he was "aware" of the process by which his ministry's press office had confirmed Dr Kelly's name to the media. But he insisted the strategy had been drawn up by his officials with input from No 10 but without his personal involvement.
Some sources had suggested the Defence Secretary would fall on his sword over the affair to protect Tony Blair. Instead, he used his evidence at the hearing to put others to the sword in a combative performance.
After two hours and 42 minutes of giving evidence, Mr Hoon was asked whether he could help Lord Hutton with anything else regarding the death of Dr Kelly. In his most dramatic offering, the Defence Secretary suggested the pressure put on the scientist by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee may have pushed him over the edge to his suicide.
Mr Hoon reminded the hearing that even on the day he went missing Dr Kelly was receiving phone calls over a demand by MPs that he produce a list of all the journalists he had dealings with. He continued, cryptically: "I know people have speculated about the impact of preparing that list on his state of mind at the time. But I can't go further than that speculation."
The Defence Secretary said the weapons expert could have had no reason to complain over his treatment by the Government. He said he was puzzled by claims that the scientist had been poorly treated. "In fact, he had been very well treated by the personnel director and those in the department, and a great deal of support had been afforded to him. I cannot see any way in which Dr Kelly was poorly treated in the Ministry of Defence."
Mr Hoon said the decision to name Dr Kelly in a letter to Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, was done at the prompting of Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff. He said he dissuaded Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's director of communications, from leaking the scientist's name to a "friendly" newspaper.
Mr Hoon named the most senior civil servant in the MoD, Sir Kevin Tebbit, the permanent under secretary, as being in the centre of the decision-making process for the MoD over Dr Kelly. Sir Kevin liaised with Downing Street on the decisions to subject the scientist to a second questioning, present him to parliamentary committees, and discussions on identifying him.
Mr Hoon said he had no direct involvement in the events that led to Dr Kelly being named. He said: "I was certainly aware, probably second-hand, from my private office or from Sir Kevin that some process was to be gone through with Dr Kelly arising from the interview. This was essentially a personnel issue and one that would not necessarily concern the Secretary of State."
The inquiry had heard Mr Hoon had turned down a suggestion from Sir Kevin that Dr Kelly should be offered as a witness to the ISC, which heard evidence in private, and not the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which was public. Instead, the Defence Secretary decided the scientist should appear before both. A memo announcing the decision stated this was being done partly for "presentational" reasons.
Mr Hoon told Lord Hutton his decision was echoing the view of the Prime Minister. He stressed he was not responsible for the "presentational" argument and pointed out he had rejected a suggestion from Sir Kevin that the ISC should question Dr Kelly in public.
Mr Hoon described an administration run by Mr Blair over the Iraq crisis in which members of the Cabinet such as himself were marginalised, with key decisions being taken by the Prime Minister's spescial advisers.
The Defence Secretary said he had seen two late drafts of last September's Iraq weapons dossier, but he had no input in it. He had not been at any of the meetings chaired by the Prime Minister that dicussed Dr Kelly. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, did make a brief appearance in one meeting, but his only contribution was a reminder of Dr Kelly's employment rights.
The inquiry was told that Dr Kelly was called back for a second questioning session after being led to believe an initial interview and a reprimand for his unauthorised meeting would be the end of it. Mr Hoon said: "It had been agreed with the Cabinet Office and Downing Street that Dr Kelly would be interviewed again."
The Defence Secretary said his view had been that it would be wrong to name Dr Kelly publicly unless there was definite proof he was the single source behind the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan's claim that the Government had "sexed up" the dossier.
Asked who decided to issue a press statement saying an official had come forward, Mr Hoon said: "I think that came out of the meeting in the Cabinet Office involving David Omand and others. I was simply given a message to the effect that it was now appropriate for me to write to the BBC chairman [offering Dr Kelly's name in confidence]."
Mr Hoon said he had not strongly suspected Dr Kelly of being the source. "What I am resisting, certainly as far as I am concerned, is any suggestion that there was some sort of conspiracy, some sort of strategy, some sort of plan covertly to make his name known," he said. "That was not the case."
WHOM THE DEFENCE SECRETARY NAMED
HOON ON CAMPBELL
"I was not thinking of briefing a newspaper ... and I think I pointed out to him it still left the possibility that the BBC would simply deny it ... Although Alastair [Campbell] put it forward ... he did not brief a newspaper either. It was one suggestion he made."
HOON ON THE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
The FAC (chaired by Donald Anderson, above) had told Dr Dr Kelly to produce a list of all the journalists he had dealings with. "People have speculated about the impact of preparing that list on [Dr Kelly's] state of mind ... But I can't go further than that speculation."
HOON ON THE BBC
"I believe very strongly that notice was not given and it was one aspect of my concern about the way in which this material had been published by Mr Gilligan and the Today programme that no proper opportunity was given to the MoD to respond to it."
HOON ON THE ISC
The ISC had suggested a press statement be produced naming Dr Kelly. It was never released "because of the reluctance of Ann Taylor to become involved ... [So] the fallback was for me to write to the BBC and publicise ... that an official had come forward."
HOON ON THE MoD
"For some time, [the MoD, of which Sir Kevin Tebbit is the permanent secretary] has had ... a reputation for unauthorised briefing and leaking to journalists ... this was an opportunity to demonstrate that unauthorised contact with journalists would be looked at seriously."
HOON ON No 10
The decision to issue a press release saying an unnamed civil servant had come forward "came out of the meeting in the Cabinet Office involving David Omand and others. I was ... simply given a message ...to write to the BBC [giving Dr Kelly's name]."Reuse content