David Kelly laughed and dismissed as "risible" the Government's claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction "within 45 minutes", a friend of the weapons expert said yesterday.
Tom Mangold, an author and former BBC journalist, told the Hutton inquiry he met Dr Kelly in 1998 when he was a UN weapons inspector. He became Mr Mangold's "principal interviewee" for a book on biological warfare. He said he had not discussed the dossier or the 45-minute claim with Dr Kelly before the war. But he said he raised the issue in a phone call when he talked to Dr Kelly about Andrew Gilligan's report on the Today programme, which claimed that the dossier had been "sexed up".
Mr Mangold told the inquiry: "We occasionally gossiped on the phone and on this occasion we got it about the 45-minute claim because I thought it sounded risible to me and I wondered what he thought about it. He thought it was risible too. He did not feel that weapons would be deployed or activated within 45 minutes."
Mr Mangold also revealed that Dr Kelly had read and agreed with an article he had written for The Times, arguing that the intelligence services were sceptical about the 45- minute claim, and that he had advised the BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt to call Dr Kelly to follow up Mr Gilligan's report.
He said that he had sent Dr Kelly an e-mail on 9 July, saying an article in The Times had made him think that "someone I know and admire" had been the source of the report by Mr Gilligan. Mr Mangold said: "You did not have to be Plato to work out that it would be David Kelly. It is such a small world, the biological weapons world, and there aren't many UK inspectors ... I only know about four or five. Of those, only David Kelly spoke to the press."
He called Dr Kelly's wife, Janice, on 18 July, after he received a telephone call saying that Dr Kelly had disappeared. He said: "She was still fairly upbeat and felt he must have had a heart attack or stroke. She felt he was lying in a field waiting to be found."