How a judge's narrow remit allowed Government off hook on vital issue of case for war

Hutton identifies five key areas in Kelly affair, but No 10 escapes all censure over its role in the tragedy of a weapons scientist

THE DOSSIER

From virtually the first words he spoke, Lord Hutton made clear that he did not feel it was within his remit to assess fully the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction.

The Iraq Survey Group is looking increasingly likely to rule that no weapons existed in Iraq, at least since the Gulf War in 1991. But for many people, while Labour MPs howled with relief in the Commons, this was the dog that didn't bark yesterday.

Lord Hutton said that it was also not up to him to decide whether the intelligence in the dossier, including the 45-minute claim, was "unreliable" or not. He said twice that the issue was "a separate issue".

Lord Hutton correctly pointed out that the allegation by Andrew Gilligan, the defence correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, was that the Government used such intelligence "knowing it to be untrue".

But for many people, the reliability of some of the claims in the dossier are what really matter a good deal more than the row between the BBC and the Government. The 45-minute claim was deemed "risible" by David Kelly and other former Unscom inspectors.

Lord Hutton was also silent on the distinction between whether the claim in the dossier related to battlefield or strategic weapons.

He was also strangely silent on the comment from the head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, that the 45-minute claim was given "undue prominence" in the dossier. The claim that Saddam Hussein continued to produce chemical weapons was also heavily criticised.

There are few professions in the real world where it would be permissible to say, in effect, "we may have got it wrong but we did it in good faith". For Britain's senior intelligence assessors to fall back on this is extremely worrying.

At one point, Lord Hutton did come close to backing up the thrust of the report by Mr Gilligan, yet he immediately backed away from the logic of his own observations.

He pointed out that "sexed up" is a slang expression, "the meaning of which lacks clarity in the context of the dossier".

But he said that the phrase was capable of two different meanings.

On the one hand it could mean that the dossier was "embellished with items of intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable to make the case against Saddam Hussein stronger", he said.

On the other, it could mean that while the intelligence was known to be reliable, "the dossier was drafted in such a way as to make the case against Saddam Hussein as strong as the intelligence contained in it permitted".

He went on to say that Mr Gilligan's earlier, 6.07am, broadcast appeared to fall into the first category.

But he did not make the obvious point that the rest of the the Gilligan report fell into the second category.

Evidence to the inquiry showed that Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's then director of communications and Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, did indeed make the dossier "as strong as possible" within intelligence constraints. Nevertheless, they proved that Downing Street had won changes that went beyond mere presentation.

Lord Hutton repeatedly made the point that Mr Gilligan had no foundation for his claim that the 45-minute point was not initially inserted because it came from one source and intelligence services did not support it.

He rightly stated that the real reason for its absence from early drafts was that MI6 brought in the raw intelligence late, on 29 August.

What he failed to point out was that that intelligence was not correctly represented to refer to battlefield weapons. The public was left with screaming headlines that raised the spectre of attack on Britain within minutes.

Lord Hutton again came tantalisingly close to the heart of the matter when he stated that John Scarlett might have been "subconsciously influenced" by Mr Blair's personal interest in the dossier. Most people would conclude that Mr Scarlett was very much aware that he had to boost the case for war and that there were not even Chinese walls between the JIC and No 10.

Another area on which Lord Hutton failed to be forthright was on reform of the JIC. But he did quote the recommendation by the Intelligence and Security Committee for all future complaints within the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) to be acted on effectively. Dr Brian Jones, the retired head of intelligence in the DIS, had his formal complaint ignored by the senior figures in the JIC and the Ministry of Defence.

DR KELLY'S MEETING WITH ANDREW GILLIGAN

Lord Hutton was right to conclude that Dr Kelly never said that the dossier was "transformed". It is likely that the word "Campbell" was first said by Mr Gilligan rather than Dr Kelly. But in Mr Gilligan's defence, the scientist had referred to the spin doctor in a phone call to Susan Watts, the science editor for the BBC programme Newsnight.

Lord Hutton is also probably right that Mr Gilligan failed to warn the MoD of the real nature of his report in advance.

THE BBC

Lord Hutton mentioned only in passing the fact that Mr Campbell had sought to raise the temperature with the BBC. Yet it is clear from his Channel 4 News outburst that he had lost all proportion on the issue.

The former law lord was correct, however, in his criticism of BBC bosses for failing to check that Mr Gilligan had notes to support his claims. If they had, they could have seen he had made a huge error.

GOVERNMENT HANDLING OF DR KELLY

In one of his few surprises, Lord Hutton said that he had first believed that the Government had been engaged in some underhand strategy to "out" Dr Kelly to discredit the BBC. But he said he changed his mind as he heard the evidence from a string of government witnesses, who claimed they were only ever interested in the avoidance of a cover-up.

This seems naive given Mr Campbell's diaries in which he wrote that he and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, "wanted the source out" and that Dr Kelly's coming forward could "fuck Gilligan".

Similarly, Michael Howard, the Tory leader, made a valid point yesterday when he said that there was no need for a "covert" naming strategy because once a press release was issued the media would inevitably get the name.

Lord Hutton accepted the Government's case that its descriptions of Dr Kelly, in its press release and in the lobby briefing by Tom Kelly, a Downing Street spokesman, were to point up contradictions in the Gilligan claim. He seemed to back the extraordinary claim by the MoD's permanent secretary Sir Kevin Tebbit that these were not "clues".

Yet James Blitz of the Financial Times told the inquiry that it was the lobby briefing that alerted him to the identity of the source. Lord Hutton was spot on when he said that Sir Kevin's evidence did not contradict that of Mr Blair.

It is likely that Sir Kevin was referring to the press statement, not the Q&A strategy to name Dr Kelly, when he said No 10 made the "decision" on the matter. The judge was right to criticise the MoD for its failure to gain Dr Kelly's permission to name him or keep him informed when it had done so. Yet he seemed to believe Mr Blair's claim that this was done "in good faith". It is clear that if they had sought permission, it would have been opposed.

But the most glaring omission from Lord Hutton was his failure to comment on Geoff Hoon's remarks to Peter Sissons of the BBC. Mr Hoon told him that the MoD had made every effort to protect the scientist's anonymity. Yet he personally had approved a strategy removing his anonymity.

FACTORS THAT LED DR KELLY TO TAKE HIS LIFE

Lord Hutton correctly made the point that nobody could have been expected to predict that their actions would lead to his death. But he said it was the likely loss of his integrity that caused Dr Kelly deep worry in his final days and hours.

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