Hush-hush honours for US military top brass

MPs demand to know why invasion chiefs and billionaire got awards
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Mr Bechtel, the billionaire head of the US-based engineering giant, was handed a CBE for "services to UK-American commercial relations" in 2003, according to information obtained by The Observer. He is a likely bidder for future nuclear plants in the UK and has made hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction projects in Iraq. Others honoured include several senior US military figures, among them Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, the man in charge of maritime forces during the Iraq invasion, and Rear Admiral Barry Costello, commander of the Third Fleet and Task Force 55.

Releasing the information in a parliamentary answer, the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said: "Awards to citizens where Her Majesty the Queen is not head of state are not formally announced." The Government last night denied claims that it had made a secret of the honours, but a Foreign Office spokeswoman accepted they might not have been "pro-actively" publicised at the request of the recipients.

Opposition MPs suspect the awards were kept quiet to avoid awkward questions. Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP who helped unearth the full list of foreign honour recipients, said: "These awards are supposed to be for good works and those who have helped Britain. Instead it seems they are being handed out to those that have supported [Tony] Blair's misguided policies."

The revelation comes after a row over the award in the Queen's Birthday Honours of a CBE for the police chief under investigation by the inquiry into the Stockwell shooting. Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman received the award despite facing a disciplinary charge as a result of the Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry.

The allegations against the police chief are said to relate to a briefing he gave journalists in the afternoon after the Stockwell shooting last July about the dead man's identity and links to terror groups.

Mr Hayman, who heads the Met's anti-terror operations, was also in command of the bungled Forest Gate raid two weeks ago, in which a man was shot and injured before being released without charge.

Muslim leaders say the honour could inflame community tensions in the aftermath of the London raid, for which Mr Hayman was forced to apologise.