Ministers accused of misleading MPs over prisoner abuse

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Tony Blair faced demands yesterday for a personal statement to MPs after the Government made damaging admissions about the alleged mistreatment of Iraqi civilians and the failure of planning for the aftermath of war.

Tony Blair faced demands yesterday for a personal statement to MPs after the Government made damaging admissions about the alleged mistreatment of Iraqi civilians and the failure of planning for the aftermath of war.

Mr Blair was accused of misleading Parliament after the Ministry of Defence admitted the number of cases of alleged abuses of civilians in Iraq being investigated by the military police were nearly double those previously given to MPs.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats joined Labour MPs in demanding a statement from the Prime Minister after the Defence Minister, Adam Ingram, admitted that numbers of investigations into civilian deaths and alleged mistreatment given to MPs had been incorrect.

Last month, Mr Ingram told MPs that 33 cases of civilian deaths, injury and alleged ill-treatment were being investigated, a figure repeated in the House of Commons by Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, and by Mr Blair himself.

But yesterday Mr Ingram admitted that 61 cases had been under investigation at the time. He said a further 14 investigations had been started since his original statement on 4 May. The MoD said the total of 75 investigations included six deaths in detention, 23 deaths during fighting and seven road accidents. Downing Street blamed the failure of the MoD to compile central figures on the number of investigations, and insisted that Mr Ingram had acted as soon as possible to put the record straight.

But Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "There seems a marked discrepancy between what we've been told before and what we are being told now. The Government must act swiftly to clear up these apparent contradictions.

"This is a matter of sufficient importance to bring the Prime Minister to the House of Commons to make a statement."

Nicholas Soames, the Conservative defence spokesman, said: "It is now imperative that the Prime Minister - who also used these figures - should come to the Chamber to clarify why the House was misled in this way."

Meanwhile, the Government accepted it had not been prepared for the collapse of law and order after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In its response to a critical report by MPs. the Government said: "We underestimated the extent of civil disorder problems that we would face and the dislocation of Iraqi civil administration structures."

Renewed controversy over the handling of post-war Iraq was sparked when Mr Blair appeared to water down his claims about the threat posed by Saddam before the outbreak of hostilities.

The Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, published in September 2002, had claimed that chemical and biological weapons remained unaccounted for and insisted that Saddam's planning allowed the deployment of weapons of mass destruction "within 45 minutes"

But yesterday Mr Blair sparked fury by claiming only that evidence would confirm the Iraqi dictator's "complete determination" to obtain illegal arms. He told BBC Radio 4 merely that "basic patterns" about Saddam's intentions would be proved correct.

BLAIR'S LEXICON OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

24 September 2002

"The document discloses that his military planning allows for some of the weapons of mass destruction to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them."

Foreword by the Prime Minister to the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction

18 March 2003

"We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years - contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence - Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd."

Opening the debate on Iraq on the eve of war

8 July 2003

"I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes."

Evidence to MPs

11 January 2004

"You can't be definitive at the moment about what has happened."

Interviewed on the BBC's 'Breakfast with Frost'

Yesterday

"I think the basic patter - this was someone who still retained complete determination to pursue this WMD business - I would be very surprised if that turned out to be wrong."

On BBC Radio 4's 'Today'

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