Downing Street was accused yesterday of conducting a vendetta after the sacking of a senior intelligence official who accused Tony Blair of misleading the public over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
The decision to terminate the contract of John Morrison as the investigator for Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee was due to pressure from No 10, according to senior Whitehall sources. It stemmed from Mr Morrison's appearance on BBC Television's Panorama programme.
The Independent has learnt that the dismissal took place even though Mr Morrison had informed Alistair Corbett, the secretary to the ISC, and its chairman, the former Labour chief whip Ann Taylor, that he was going to appear on the programme. Neither person raised any objections.
Mr Morrison, a former deputy director of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), secretary to the Joint Intelligence Committee and intelligence representative to Nato, is the only official to lose his job following the failure to find any WMD in Iraq and over the Butler report. His dismissal has caused concern among some colleagues. One said yesterday: "It's rather ironic that the only person who goes as a result of the Butler inquiry is someone who told it as it was."
The Cabinet Office said: "John Morrison is currently employed as a contractor by the Cabinet Office on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee as their part-time investigator. Mr Morrison has worked for the committee for five years and his contract will end in October 2004. The committee has no plans to employ a new investigator."
Although the Cabinet Office claimed he had no further assignments, it is understood his contract was not due to run out until April next year, and that he is carrying out an investigation for the ISC, which is now likely to be abandoned.
Mr Morrison's appearance on Panorama is said to have caused widespread alarm, as well as anger in Downing Street. Sir David Omand, Mr Blair's security and intelligence co-ordinator, is said to have complained to Ms Taylor.
Mr Morrison told how intelligence officials had reacted with incredulity to the Prime Minister's claim that Iraq was "a serious and current threat to the United Kingdom". He said: "When I heard him using those words, I could almost hear a collective raspberry going up around Whitehall." Many of the accusations made by Mr Morrison were upheld by the report of the former cabinet secretary Lord Butler of Brockwell in his report the following week.
Labour MPs opposed to the war on Iraq have called on Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, to refer Britain to the International Court of Justice to investigate claims that the conflict was illegal. The group, led by Alan Simpson, has also written to the prime ministers of 18 countries that opposed the war, including France, Germany and Russia, urging them to support the demands for a reference to the court, which recently ruled against Israel over its security wall in occupied Palestinian land.