Hoon told MPs not to probe Kelly on dossier

Donald Anderson: Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee
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Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, ordered the Foreign Affairs Committee not to question David Kelly about the controversial Iraq weapons dossier when the scientist appeared to give evidence.

Government officials, including Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications and strategy, had repeatedly claimed at the Hutton inquiry that Dr Kelly was forced to appear in public before the committee because otherwise there would have been allegations of a "cover-up".

But yesterday, Donald Anderson, the chairman of the committee, revealed that Mr Hoon had instructed that Dr Kelly should be questioned only about his dealings with Andrew Gilligan, the defence and diplomatic correspondent of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and not the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Sir Kevin Tebbit, the permanent under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence, had maintained that it was in the "public interest" that Dr Kelly should make known his views about the dossier, even if this was "uncomfortable" for the Government. The disclosure follows evidence before the hearing that Mr Campbell saw the scientist as the key to refuting Mr Gilligan's BBC report that the Government had "sexed up" the Iraq dossier.

Mr Anderson told the inquiry that Mr Hoon had said in a letter that Dr Kelly should be questioned "not on the wider issue of Iraq weapons of mass destruction and preparation of the dossier". He also asked that the scientist should not spend more than 45 minutes before the committee.

Mr Anderson said he had subsequently learned, through evidence presented to the hearing, that while the MPs were being told not to delve into the dossier, Dr Kelly's superiors at the Ministry of Defence were briefing him on how to handle the "tricky issues" in the committee, such as WMD.

Mr Anderson, the MP for Swansea East, told the inquiry that he had acquiesced to the Defence Secretary's demands. "I thought this was reasonable because the committee had called a number of witnesses on weapons of mass destruction and could have called Dr Kelly during that time." But he added that "there would be temptation by colleagues to ask this expert his expert opinion on things".

James Dingemans QC, counsel for the inquiry, said: "Did you pick up whether or not Dr Kelly appeared to have been prepared?" Mr Anderson said: "I honestly didn't think about that at the time, although I have subsequently learned that there was an extensive briefing provided for Dr Kelly by the MoD and a briefing which went well beyond the parameters the Secretary of State had provided for me in his letter."

Mr Anderson also told the inquiry that Mr Gilligan had sought to influence the committee. Mr Anderson said that before the questioning of Dr Kelly began, the Liberal Democrat MP David Chidgey, another committee member, said he had been "briefed" by Mr Gilligan and wanted to ask a question. The hearing had been told earlier that the journalist had e-mailed Greg Simpson, a press officer for the party, pointing out the expertise of Dr Kelly and questions he might be asked. Mr Gilligan had also stated in the correspondence that the scientist had spoken to Susan Watts, the science editor of Newsnight, about Mr Campbell and the September dossier. Mr Anderson said he was placed in a "dilemma" when Mr Chidgey revealed what had happened and said Mr Gilligan's intervention was "unprecedented".

The BBC is holding an inquiry into why a copy of the e-mail was not sent to the inquiry with other documents. Lord Hutton is thought to have got the e-mail from Mr Chidgey.

The committee has faced criticism for the way it questioned Dr Kelly. Asked about his feelings on this, Mr Anderson said: "I would like to think that I personally would always treat a witness with respect, particularly a witness as distinguished as Dr Kelly. He had shown signs of distress ... There were times when Dr Kelly was laughing, and ... he is clearly a man of considerable intellect. He could see which questions were coming, and when he did not want to answer he was clearly on top of the subject and did not do so."