Iraq inquiry

Iraq: The inquiry cover-up that will keep us in the dark

Gordon Brown was accused of strangling the inquiry into the Iraq war at birth yesterday by refusing to let it make public sensitive documents that shed light on the conflict.

A previously undisclosed agreement between Sir John Chilcot's inquiry and the Government gives Whitehall the final say on what information the investigation can release into the public domain. Mr Brown, who initially wanted the inquiry held in private, was forced to climb down earlier this year after an outcry and promised that most of its sessions would be heard in public. He said information would be withheld only when it would compromise national security.

However, a protocol agreed by the inquiry and the Government includes nine wide-ranging reasons under which Whitehall departments can refuse to publish documents disclosed to the investigation. Crucially, disputes between Sir John and the Government over disclosures would be resolved by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

Critics warned that the catch-all exemptions on disclosure could spare the Government from a repeat of the embarrassment it suffered during the Hutton inquiry into the death of the weapons expert David Kelly, when a string of sensitive documents were disclosed.

The agreement allows the Government to stop publication of material which would "cause harm or damage to the public interest" such as national security, international relations or economic interests; breach the disclosure rules of the security services; endanger life or risk serious harm to an individual; breach legal professional privilege; prejudice legal proceedings or a statutory or criminal inquiry; breach the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or Data Protection Act; or be commercially sensitive.

It goes much wider than the reasons for preventing disclosure outlined by Mr Brown in the Commons in June. He said then: "I have asked the members of the committee to ensure that the final report will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information – that is, all except that which is essential to our national security."

Last night Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, likened the clampdown to an episode of Yes Minister, saying that senior civil servants had taken their revenge after the U-turn over private hearings. He appealed to Mr Brown to revise the rules, saying they made a mockery of his promise of a public inquiry.

Mr Clegg told The Independent: "This is tantamount to Whitehall putting a blindfold over the whole process. Chilcot and his colleagues have been completely rolled over and have allowed their hands to be bound before they have even started work. The Government will act as judge and jury on what will be disclosed. That is wholly unacceptable."

Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the Government's independent reviewer of terrorism laws and a Liberal Democrat, said: "The protocol has the potential of turning a tiger into a mouse."

He said the reasons for withholding publication were so broad that "almost everything of interest" could be blocked.

Sources close to the Chilcot inquiry denied that it had been muzzled and said it was happy with the agreement with the Government. They insisted that the presumption was that information would be put in the public domain and that the protocol was designed to underline that. They said that they would "kick up a stink" if they felt documents were being withheld unreasonably. If the Cabinet Office blocked publication, the inquiry could announced that this had happened and why.

Inquiry sources stressed that the agreement would not stop its members having access to sensitive documents – only whether they could be published during the proceedings or in the final report.

Yesterday, the second day of the inquiry heard that Britain received intelligence days before invading Iraq that Saddam Hussein may not have been able to use chemical weapons. Foreign Office official Sir William Ehrman said that a report suggested that such weapons may have been "disassembled", while another report suggested Iraq might also lack warheads capable of spreading chemical agents.

Mr Clegg clashed with Gordon Brown over the rules on disclosing information during Prime Minister's Questions. Mr Clegg said: "It is vital that the Iraq inquiry, which started its work this week, is able to reveal the full truth about the decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq."

The Liberal Democrat leader said the nine reasons why information could be suppressed "have nothing to do with national security and outrageously give Whitehall departments individual rights of veto".

He asked the Prime Minister: "Why did you not tell us about this before? And how on earth are we, and the whole country, going to hear about the whole truth about decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq if the inquiry is being suffocated on day one by your Government's shameful culture of secrecy?"

Mr Brown referred to exemptions on grounds of damaging national security and international relations. He insisted that the inquiry team were happy with the way they were being asked to carry out their work, saying that Sir John had been "given the freedom to conduct an inquiry in the way he wants".

The Liberal Democrats said they would keep up the pressure on Mr Brown to tear up the agreement to allow more documents to be disclosed. They warned that, as currently drafted, the rules would be even more restrictive than the Freedom of Information Act, which forces the Government to state publicly why requests for disclosure are turned down. In contrast, decisions on the Iraq inquiry material would be taken behind closed doors, they said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam