I was not slurring Kelly, says 'Walter Mitty' spokesman

Tom Kelly, official spokesman for the Prime Minister
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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's official spokesman has denied attempting to "belittle, demean or slur" David Kelly - even though he described the weapons expert after his death as a "Walter Mitty" character.

Tom Kelly admitted he had used the phrase - revealed by The Independent last month - in conversations with several journalists and made a fresh apology for his "too colourful" remark. But he insisted it had not been part of a deliberate effort to smear Dr Kelly in the run-up to the opening of the Hutton inquiry.

Mr Kelly, making his second appearance before the inquiry, also rejected claims that the Government laid a trail of clues for journalists that inevitably revealed the scientist's identity.

Jeremy Gompertz, counsel for the Kelly family, spotlighted the "Walter Mitty" comments made to Paul Waugh, the deputy political editor of The Independent. Asked whether it was part of a government attempt to "belittle, demean or slur" the weapons expert, Mr Kelly replied: "I was not aware of any explicit or implicit strategy to do so and I was not part of any strategy to do so."

He said he was merely posing questions the Hutton inquiry would have to address, such as whether Dr Kelly was in a position to comment in detail on the Government's dossier on Iraq.

Mr Kelly maintained that he was not being malicious, but conceded: "I accept that I shouldn't have used what was too colourful a phrase."

He was also challenged over a lobby briefing on 9 July to political correspondents at which he released further information about Dr Kelly, who had not been publicly named at that stage. One journalist has told the inquiry he came away from the session convinced that Dr Kelly was the source of Andrew Gilligan's report on misgivings in the security services about the Iraq dossier.

Mr Kelly denied "dropping clues", maintaining that he had been forced into the step to rebut a BBC statement casting doubt on the "credibility" of a Ministry of Defence announcement that an unnamed official had admitted meeting Mr Gilligan. Mr Gompertz said that telling journalists that Dr Kelly worked for one department but was paid by another narrowed the field very considerably.

Mr Kelly replied: "I did not believe it would do. I thought the field was quite narrow anyway but did not feel that that particular piece of information would do in the split second I had [to answer]."

Mr Gompertz confronted him with a diary entry for that day by Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's outgoing director of communications, which read: "Biggest thing that was needed was the source out."

He suggested there was "a strategy to reveal Dr Kelly's name without appearing to do so". Mr Kelly replied: "Categorically not." He also said some of the blame for the briefing had to rest with the BBC. He said: "I had to respond to questions which journalists were asking as a result of the BBC statement.

"If the BBC had not put out that statement, I would not have had to respond to the questions."

Godric Smith, the Prime Minister's other official spokesman, was asked if the diary entry about getting the source out reflected Mr Campbell's views. Mr Smith replied: "Yes, but I think there is a qualitative difference between a desire for something to happen and actually taking concrete steps to make it happen."

Mr Smith was also asked why he drafted a mock press release on 9 July for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that was highly critical of Mr Gilligan. He said it was sent to a Downing Street colleague, Clare Sumner, but not read by her, as a concise way of summarising his thoughts at the time. He said: "I have accepted that it looks curious ... I hope people recognise it's benign."

Mr Smith added: "It was certainly the case that part of our thinking was what Dr Kelly himself had said, namely that he recognised that his name would emerge and come into the public domain but that he wanted to have some time to prepare his family and friends for that eventuality."