Hutton inquiry: Kelly 'went too far in briefing journalist'

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David Kelly breached government confidence in his briefings to journalists, the inquiry into the death of the Government weapons expert was told today.

On the opening day of the inquiry, a senior Ministry of Defence official said Dr Kelly appeared to have gone "outside the scope of his discretion" when he spoke to the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan.

The inquiry, headed by senior judge Lord Hutton, was launched after Dr Kelly apparently took his own life.

He had been identified as the probable source for Mr Gilligan's story claiming the Government "sexed up" its dossier on Iraqi weapons to strengthen the case for war.

Richard Hatfield, the MoD's Director of Personnel, said that while briefing the media on Iraq was "effectively part of his job description", it appeared that when he spoke to Mr Gilligan he had gone too far.

"He appears to have had, on his own account, two meetings with Mr Gilligan, which took place off MoD premises, with nobody having any knowledge of them and even on Dr Kelly's account of what took place at that interview, he clearly had strayed beyond providing technical information," he told the inquiry

"My interpretation, I'm afraid, of thinking back over his history is that he could not have done that without realising he had gone outside the scope of his discretion.

"There is no security breach. My concern relates to the basic breach of confidence as to how he is supposed to behave towards his employer and the Government, since he works for the Government."

Mr Hatfield said that he found it "somewhat surprising" that Dr Kelly had professed not to have seen detailed guidance for officials on contacts with the media, but he said that he should have known the basic rules.

"He did not need to see that (the guidance) to know the rules, because the basic rules are clear," he said.

These included not commenting on or disclosing classified information and not discussing "politically controversial issues".

The counsel to the inquiry, James Dinegemans QC, read from a series of documents attesting to Dr Kelly's long experience in dealing with the media.

One document referred to Dr Kelly as "the expert of choice" on Iraq issues for the media while another noted that he "expressed himself clearly and put across HMG's (Her Majesty's Government's) line with authority".

It went on: "This system, which relied on self-discipline and judgment on all sides worked well and provided the media with expert background briefing and led to no embarrassment for HMG over the period 2000-2002."

Earlier, former colleague Terence Taylor told the inquiry how he spoke to Dr Kelly by telephone from the US four days before his death to discuss a visit he was planning to make to Britain.

He said that they had mainly discussed Dr Kelly's impending trip to Iraq as part of the Iraq Survey Group which is heading the hunt for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

"He was clearly thinking about that, thinking about going to Iraq. We discussed that, not in any great detail, but in general." said Mr Taylor, who is now president of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington.

Mr Taylor added: "He said that he was probably going to be going out in little more than a week's time, but nevertheless we could probably meet. He was clearly thinking and was focussed on that during this particular conversation."

Mr Taylor said the only other recent contact he had with Dr Kelly was when he stayed at his home three or four weeks earlier.

"He seemed to me to be in a normal state of mind, someone I had known for 16 years. I did not detect any discernible difference," he said.

"He spoke about his daughter's forthcoming wedding in October, so he seemed to be in a normal state of mind bearing in mind this was about a month before this particular awful incident."

Mr Taylor said that he believed his friend had been looking forward to the challenge of going to Iraq.

"The only point that I would say he had expressed some negative thoughts, if I can put it that way, was he was concerned about his colleagues," he said.

"He knew there had been discussions about their consultancy arrangements. Somehow that irritated him a little bit. His words were to the effect that 'my relationship with them wouldn't be quite the same again as in the past'.

"At the time that did not seem to me to be particularly remarkable. It was not said in a very strong manner."

Mr Hatfield told the inquiry that despite Dr Kelly's seniority, he was not formally part of the Senior Civil Service, but was just "fractionally below" in the grading system.

The inquiry heard evidence that Dr Kelly had been unhappy with his status.

In one letter, read out by Mr Dingemans, he complained of having fallen into a "black hole" as a result of his secondment to the Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, which was part of the Foreign Office.

In another he referred to his long record of experience, including the award of the Cross of St George and St Michael for his work in Iraq.

"All of this appears to have passed by without recognition from DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency) management," he wrote.