Kelly believed 45-minute claim 'risible', says friend

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Tony Blair's claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was so far-fetched that Dr David Kelly laughed out loud when discussing it, the Hutton inquiry heard yesterday.

Tom Mangold, a journalist and friend of Dr Kelly, revealed that the scientist had described the claim as "risible" because it appeared to conflict with his knowledge of weapons. Mr Mangold said Dr Kelly had told him that chemical and biological weapons could not be deployed or activated within 45 minutes because it took much longer to fill munitions with the respective agents. "He just laughed about the 45-minute claim," Mr Mangold said.

The evidence came as Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, faced fresh controversy over his own involvement in the Government's strategy to confirm Dr Kelly's identity to journalists. Mr Hoon said last week that he had been merely "aware" of the highly unusual decision to name Dr Kelly and implied that civil servants had approved the idea. But Richard Taylor, Mr Hoon's special adviser, told the inquiry that the Defence Secretary had chaired a meeting at which the strategy was finally authorised.

The final day of the first stage of the inquiry also heard that Dr Kelly had been threatened by MoD officials that his pension and security clearance would be affected by his contact with the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan. The Government has consistently denied reports that the scientist's pension was under threat as a result of his coming forward to admit he had met Mr Gilligan. But Olivia Bosch, a former UN weapons inspector and close colleague of Dr Kelly, told the inquiry of the threats. "He said he had been given a kind of quiet reprimand and there was something to the effect about his pension and clearance might be affected," Ms Bosch said.

Mr Gilligan also faces fresh questions about his own evidence after Ms Bosch said that Dr Kelly was "taken aback" by the way the BBC reporter used a "name game" to elicit information from him. Mr Gilligan has maintained it was Dr Kelly who first came up with the name of Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's director of communications and strategy.

But Ms Bosch said Mr Gilligan had suggested the name "Campbell" as the person who interfered with the Iraq dossier. "He could not confirm or deny, but he thought he had to give an answer so he said 'maybe'." Lord Hutton adjourned the inquiry until 15 September to decide which witnesses he will recall for cross-examination in a second stage of hearings. The recalled witnesses, who are expected to include Mr Gilligan and Mr Hoon, will be questioned to clarify their earlier answers, Lord Hutton said. But he said that those not recalled to give evidence may be criticised in his final report.

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