Kelly given 'outstanding' treatment, QC maintains

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Indy Politics

The barrister representing the Government continued to insist that David Kelly had received "outstanding" support from the Ministry of Defence in the weeks leading up to his death.

Jonathan Sumption, QC, rejected accusations that Dr Kelly's colleagues and managers in the MoD had failed in their duty of care. He said Dr Kelly had no constitutional right to anonymity and rejected claims by the Kelly family that there was a Whitehall conspiracy to disclose his name in order to further their battle with the BBC.

Mr Sumption urged Lord Hutton not to apportion blame for the scientist's death. He said: "We are, I suggest, in danger of trying to learn general lessons from appalling but wholly exceptional and unpredictable events.

"What is much worse is we are in danger of learning the wrong lessons. Dr Kelly's death is undoubtedly a tragedy for his family. It is also a great loss for the service for which he worked but it is perfectly possible to recognise those facts and to express genuine sympathy to his family, as we do, without at once turning aside in order to hunt for other people to blame."

Mr Sumption strongly defended the Government's handling of the September dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and attacked Andrew Gilligan's report claiming that Downing Street had "sexed up" the dossier against the wishes of the intelligence services.

He insisted that the row between the Government and the BBC was not a "personal campaign" by Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications.

He said: "The Government would have been just as concerned about the matter if Mr Campbell had been on sabbatical at the other end of the world."

In a strong defence of Dr Kelly's colleagues within the Ministry of Defence, Mr Sumption backed Richard Hatfield, director of personnel at the MoD. He said: "I agree with Richard Hatfield's description that the support for Dr Kelly was outstanding. None of these individuals could have foreseen his suicide."

Mr Sumption said Dr Kelly's colleagues had been "saddened" by allegations of failings in their support for Dr Kelly.

He said: "These individuals are as much entitled to have their own feelings considered as Dr Kelly was.

"We should not underestimate the effect on them of having to meet these accusations one after another in the glare of intense press publicity, and in some cases hostility, which has attended this inquiry."

Mr Sumption continued: "It is fair to say at the outset that Dr Kelly was an extremely self-contained person. He kept his feelings to himself. That very fact meant he was not an easy person to help."

He said a range of pressures might have contributed to Dr Kelly's state of mind, including the possibility that he had said more to Mr Gilligan than he admitted to the MoD or two parliamentary committees.

He said: "It is not only a crude oversimplification of a very complex problem but it is exceptionally unfair to lay the blame for what's happened at the door of Dr Kelly's colleagues and superiors in the MoD or, indeed, elsewhere in Government."

But he rejected claims that there was a "plot" to allow Dr Kelly's name to be published. He maintained Dr Kelly had accepted that a press release could go out and was aware that his name was likely to emerge. He said: "None of those who knew him could have foreseen that he might kill himself."

He said: "These particular criticisms are completely unjustified. They take as their starting point the proposition that Dr Kelly was entitled to have his name withheld and that proposition is wrong. There is no constitutional principle that civil servants are entitled to anonymity. The Government had no obligation to keep Dr Kelly's name secret and Dr Kelly had no right to expect them to do so.

"The Government could not in any event, have kept his identity secret, consistently with its obligations to Parliament. The Government did not give Dr Kelly any assurance of anonymity. On the contrary it told him his identity was likely to come out. What is more, that is what was bound to happen in practice, whatever the Government did."

He defended the Government's decision to issue a press statement on 8 July saying an official had come forward as the possible source of Andrew Gilligan's report.

He said: "These things were said in the press release in order to make the point that the 29 May broadcast was likely to be wrong ... yet many witnesses have been addressed by counsel as if it was in some way shameful or wrong for a Government to defend itself against a scandalous allegation by disclosing these facts."

Mr Sumption was highly critical of Mr Gilligan's Today programme report, which he described as a "travesty". He attacked BBC executives for failing to acknowledge the seriousness of the allegations made in the wake of the report and said they were wrong to defend the story without "any underlying investigation".

He said: "The BBC seem to have regarded this as a routine piece of political mud slinging, chatter in the air. It seems to have been thought that the BBC could shoot off its fireworks and then steal away. The dogs would bark, the caravan would move on. Nobody would pay any more attention.

"It is simply not possible for a democratic government to dismiss charges like this as part of the ordinary currency of political debate."


* 787 documents were submitted to the inquiry from 22 different sources, containing over 10,000 pages of evidence, heard on 23 separate days

* 67 witnesses were called to give evidence during the first phase. The second phase heard from 25 witnesses, many of which were recalled

* The website's popularity peaked during the second week of the inquiry when Alastair Campbell gave evidence: 296,214 pages of documents were downloaded

* The '45-minute' meeting between Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly at the Charing Cross hotel cost the BBC £4.15 - for an Appletize and a Coke

* Books were moved out of Court 73 to make way for the 50 screens that have filled the courtroom

* More than 250 people queued for hours to obtain one of only 10 seats available to the public when Tony Blair gave evidence on 28 August

* A letter by Dr Kelly enigmatically mentioned "Box 850", the insider's code that refers to the M16

* The inquiry has been kept on the road by an estimated 50 administrative staff

* There remains one outstanding witness: Sir Kevin Tebbit, the permanent secretary of the MoD, whose appearance was initially postponed due to illness