Downing Street appeared to concede yesterday that David Kelly's family had told Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, to stay away from his funeral.
The Prime Minister's spokeswoman said it was decided that John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, would attend the ceremony tomorrow after discussions with Dr Kelly's widow, Janice.
Mr Hoon, who is the government figure whose job is most under threat from the inquiry into the scientist's death, led by Lord Hutton, has instead gone on holiday to the United States with his family.
Some of the minister's colleagues have criticised his absence, but it now appears much more likely that both Downing Street and the Kelly family agreed it would be best for him not to attend.
The spokeswoman said that it had been decided, "in the circumstances" surrounding Dr Kelly's death, that Mr Prescott should represent the Government at the very highest level.
She said that, since it was a family funeral, it would be inappropriate for anyone other than the family to suggest who should or should not be present. "It's very much a matter for the family who attends the funeral," she said, adding that the matter had been discussed with the family.
Some of Dr Kelly's colleagues at the Ministry of Defence, where he was well respected, will be at the funeral but the Deputy Prime Minister will be the only minister.
It is widely acknowledged that Mr Hoon's presence would have triggered a media circus at the funeral, to be held near Dr Kelly's Oxfordshire home.The Defence Secretary will be called before the Hutton inquiry into Dr Kelly's death and will be almost certain to resign if it transpires that he had a role in revealing the scientist's name to the press.
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