Hutton leak inquiry 'is yet another whitewash'

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Senior Conservative MPs last night branded an investigation into the leaking of the Hutton inquiry report as "a second whitewash".

An official investigation failed to establish how the findings from the final report of Lord Hutton's inquiry, which cleared Tony Blair of blame for the death of Dr David Kelly, were leaked to The Sun newspaper hours ahead of publication. A statement from the inquiry's office said: "The source of the leak remains unknown."

Richard Ottaway, a Conservative frontbench spokesman who questioned Dr Kelly when he was a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: "This is not only a second whitewash. It is a complete waste of the taxpayers' money. Everyone knows it was No 10."

The Sun's political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, told the BBC yesterday he was surprised the inquiry had not asked to speak to him about the source of the leak. "I wouldn't have told them anything ... but you never know I might have fainted and confessed everything," he said.

It would at least have shown that the inquiry was a serious one and was following the proper procedures, Kavanagh said. He added that it now seemed the leak inquiry was a "long and pointless exercise" designed to "cover their blushes" at the findings being leaked.

It was claimed the timing of the leak - on the morning the Hutton report was to be published - gave the advantage to the Government by announcing that Mr Blair and key ministers had been cleared of all blame over the death of Dr Kelly, the weapons expert who was implicated in the BBC story that No 10 had "sexed-up" a dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Fingers were pointed at Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's former director of communications, but Mr Campbell denied leaking the document. Copies of the report were held under strict security and delivered to Downing Street and ministers involved in the inquiry 24 hours before publication.

Michael Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, was denied any sight of the report until 6am on the day of publication. He was allowed to see a copy under lock and key at the Cabinet Office. By then, he had read in The Sun that Mr Blair and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, had been completely exonerated. The newspaper said on its front page: "Blair cleared of sneaky ploy to name Kelly" and "Hoon off the hook...but mild rap for MoD." It said Lord Hutton had found that Dr Kelly had been wrong to meet the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan and may have committed suicide because he had felt he was "in disgrace". The report added that the BBC was at fault for broadcasting Mr Gilligan's "unfounded" story.

Dr Kelly killed himself in July last year after being named as the source for BBC reporter's story claiming the Government exaggerated its 2002 dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Mr Howard told friends he was speechless when he saw the report for the first time, and said it had brought judicial reviews into disrepute.

The Hutton statement yesterday said Martin Smith, the inquiry solicitor, "carried out a full and careful investigation but was unable to discover the source". It added: "No particular weaknesses in the measures which were taken to guard the confidentiality of the report were found."

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