Tony Blair asked the intelligence services to escalate the investigation into whether David Kelly was the source of the "sexed-up" dossier allegation, the Hutton inquiry was told yesterday.
In a day of extraordinary evidence the inquiry heard how the Whitehall hunt for the source of Andrew Gilligan's reports reached the highest level of government.
It was revealed that the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, had not followed the advice of his most senior civil servant and exposed Dr Kelly to public questioning by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (FAC) after consulting Downing Street.
The rigour of the Whitehall inquiry was revealed in a letter from the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir John Scarlett, who demanded Dr Kelly undergo a "security-style interview".
It also emerged that Dr Kelly was being telephoned by Ministry of Defence officials right up until his death, seeking an answer to a question from the MP Andrew Mackinlay, who had described him as "chaff" during the FAC hearing.
The inquiry heard yesterday that with pressure mounting over the failure to find Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, there were frantic efforts in Whitehall to track down the mole who had told Mr Gilligan that Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications, had manipulated last September's dossier.
Dr Kelly, 59, had volunteered to his boss that he had met the BBC journalist at the Charing Cross Hotel in central London. During an interview with Richard Hatfield, the Ministry of Defence's personnel director, the scientist was reprimanded, but told that no further disciplinary action would be taken.
But Mr Scarlett demanded that the inquiries into the scientist should not be halted but instead should be intensified. He wrote to Sir David Omand, Mr Blair's security co-ordinator at the Cabinet Office: "I agree ... that the finger points at DK as Gilligan's source. Kelly need an appropriate security-style interview. I think it is rather urgent."
The Prime Minister's intervention in the affair was disclosed by Martin Howard, deputy chief of Defence Intelligence, who had been told to carry out a further questioning of Dr Kelly. Mr Howard recalled "high-level telephone discussions" between Sir David and Sir Kevin Tebbit, the permanent secretary at the MoD, and "possibly others", and an exchange of letters between the men.
He continued: "I recall seeing the response from Sir David Omand to Sir Kevin Tebbit which recorded the Prime Minister's views that before we decided what are the next steps that should be taken, it would be sensible to get into a bit more detail into the differences between what Dr Kelly had and Andrew Gilligan had claimed".
The hearing heard that Sir Kevin had tried to protect Dr Kelly from public exposure as a witness in the FAC inquiry into the Government's case for war. Sir Kevin wrote to Mr Hoon advising that he should allow Dr Kelly to appear before the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), where the hearings are held in private, but not the FAC. He said: "The FAC have already completed their inquiry ... A separate session to question Dr Kelly would attach disproportionate importance to him in relation to the subject of the FAC's inquiry as a whole ... It is fairer on the man himself not to expect him to appear before two parliamentary committees within two hours. The line may not be sustainable ... But I think it is worth a try at least."
Mr Hoon chose not to follow the advice. His private secretary, Peter Watkins, wrote in a memorandum: "The Defence Secretary has ... concluded that on balance we should agree to the FAC's request ... I understand that No 10 would be content with this approach.
"I am copying this letter to Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell (No 10) and to Sir David Omand and John Scarlett (Cabinet Office)."
In a highly unusual move, Mr Howard, the intelligence chief, was put in charge of preparing Dr Kelly for the ISC and FAC hearings. Questioned by James Dingemans QC, counsel for the inquiry, Mr Howard denied that he was briefing the scientist for his appearance. But Mr Dingemans produced a set of minutes for a meeting which stated: "DCDI (deputy chief of Defence Intelligence) will brief David Kelly for the FAC and ISC and will strongly recommend that Kelly is not drawn on his account of the dossier ... Kelly is apparently feeling the pressure and appears not to be handling it well".
Whitehall officials were questioned by Mr Dingemans about why the Ministry of Defence had put out a statement alerting the media that an official had volunteered that he had met Mr Gilligan. Mr Howard indicated to the tribunal that Mr Hoon may have had a part in this. He said: "The overall judgement reached at all levels, from ministers downwards, was that it would be necessary to make the fact that this had happened public."
In a series of hitherto unpublished documents, the inquiry saw how the final versions of the September dossier appeared to have been hardened up from previous drafts. The inquiry also saw instruction to MoD press officers on how to respond to media inquiries about Dr Kelly, and told to confirm the name when it was put to them and play down his seniority.Reuse content