Hutton too soft on Government, ministers admit

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Ministers and their advisers wish Lord Hutton had added a few criticisms of the Government to his report last week to give it a more balanced appearance.

While Lord Hutton's comments about the BBC's journalism have delighted ministers, they fear that its impact has been lost under a wave of accusations that the report was a "whitewash".

One senior source said: "Was what he said about the BBC fair? Yes, reasonably. Could he have been harder about the Government? Yes, he could have been.

"It wouldn't have affected what has happened at the BBC, but judging from the press and opinion poll reaction, it might have affected the way his report was received.

"We would much rather have seen a report uncontentiously received - but I would add that Lord Hutton has turned into the villain only because he has said things that some journalists don't like."

Government fears will have been borne out by a poll published today suggesting that most voters think Tony Blair's reputation has been damaged by the Hutton report - even though he was vindicated.

About 54 per cent of those sampled said the Prime Minister's reputation had deteriorated, while only 14 per cent thought it had improved, according to the ICM poll for the News of the World.

The poll reflects a similar survey for The Times on Friday, which found Mr Blair and the Government had been damaged almost as much as the BBC by the inquiry.

Today's poll is hardly better reading for Tory leader Michael Howard. Some 26 per cent of people said his reputation had deteriorated after he staked so much on the report, while 15 per cent thought his image had been enhanced.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 533 adults on 29 and 30 January.

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