Hutton ponders legal action over report leak

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Lord Hutton today criticised the leak of his report to The Sun saying he was considering "investigative and legal action" against the newspaper and its source.

Tony Blair had earlier called for an inquiry into the leaking of sections of Lord Hutton's report on the death of weapons expert David Kelly.

The premier was said to be "very angry" about the leak to The Sun newspaper, which today printed extracts damning of the BBC and effectively clearing Mr Blair, his former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and the Government machine in general of blame.

Mr Blair told MPs he could give an assurance that "nobody, as far as I am aware" in the Government was responsible for the leak.

In a statement, his official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is very angry about the leak of Lord Hutton's report.

"The Government and Alastair Campbell have categorically denied that they have had anything to do with the leak.

"The Sun has said that the leak comes from someone with nothing to gain politically or financially from such a leak.

"We believe there should be a leak inquiry involving all the parties. But this is a matter for Lord Hutton, whose report it is.

"The Cabinet Secretary (Sir Andrew Turnbull) is in touch with Lord Hutton and we have offered the Government's full co-operation."

The spokesman added: "Lord Hutton wishes to announce himself how he will proceed and we will co-operate with him fully."

Lord Hutton was due to begin reading his own summary of his reports findings at 12.30 today in the Royal Courts of Justice.

The full document was being made public at 1.30pm and Mr Blair was making a Commons statement at about 2pm.

A spokeswoman for the Hutton Inquiry said they would not be commenting on what she described as the "alleged leak".

Vincent Yearley, a spokesman for the Kelly family, also said that they would not want to comment, while the BBC strongly denied any involvement in the leak.

If The Sun's account of Lord Hutton's conclusions is reflected by the full report on its publication, it would be a major boost for Mr Blair and the Government - particularly after last night's narrow Commons victory.

According to The Sun, the 320-page document takes Mr Gilligan to task over his Radio 4 Today programme report on May 29 last year on the Government's Iraqi weapons dossier.

In the broadcast, Mr Gilligan suggested Downing Street inserted a claim that Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction (WMD) within 45 minutes, probably knowing it to be wrong. Although Mr Gilligan did not say it at the time, Dr Kelly was the source for the report.

Lord Hutton is said to have concluded: "In light of uncertainties arising from Mr Gilligan's evidence and the existence of two versions of his notes, it is not possible to reach a definite conclusion of what Dr Kelly said.

"But I am satisfied Dr Kelly did not say the Government probably knew or suspected the 45-minute claim was wrong before the claim was inserted in the dossier.

"The allegation reported by Mr Gilligan that the Government probably knew the claim was wrong or questionable was unfounded."

Lord Hutton is said to have suggested that the BBC had failed to exercise due editorial care in dealing with Mr Gilligan's story.

"I consider the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective," he reportedly said.

"The BBC failed, before Richard Sambrook (BBC head of news) wrote his letter on June 27 to Alastair Campbell (former No 10 communications chief), to make an examination of Mr Gilligan's notes to see if they supported the allegations which he had made.

"The governors are also to be criticised for failing to make a more detailed investigation into whether the allegation by Andrew Gilligan was properly supported by his notes, and failing to give proper and adequate consideration to whether the BBC should publicly acknowledge that this very grave allegation should not have been broadcast."

Lord Hutton was reported to have been critical of Dr Kelly's conduct.

"His meeting with Mr Gilligan was unauthorised and, in discussing intelligence matters with him, Dr Kelly was acting in breach of the Civil Service code of procedure," Lord Hutton is said to have concluded.

On the public identification of Dr Kelly, Lord Hutton was said to have found: "There was no dishonourable or underhand or duplicitous strategy by the Government covertly to leak Dr Kelly's name to the media.

"The decision by the Ministry of Defence to confirm Dr Kelly's name was not part of a covert strategy to leak his name but was based on the view that it would not be sensible to try to conceal the name."

Lord Hutton reportedly added, however, that the MoD was "at fault and has to be criticised" for not informing Dr Kelly that its press office would confirm his name, or tell him it had been confirmed.

The law lord is also said to have rebuked Mr Blair's official spokesman, Tom Kelly, for suggesting in a conversation with a journalist that Dr Kelly might have been a Walter Mitty character.

The BBC said it was awaiting publication of Lord Hutton's report and would not be commenting in advance.

Dr Kelly's body was found in woodland near his Oxfordshire home on July 18 last year, the day after he had disappeared and after he had been revealed as the source of Mr Gilligan's story.

Mr Blair announced an inquiry into the death within days, appointing the now-retired law lord Lord Hutton - a former Northern Ireland judge - to head it.