Ministry was 'set up' by No 10 to handle Kelly affair

Defence mandarins are fighting a rearguard action. But their boss remains firmly in the line of fire. By Kim Sengupta
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Indy Politics

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, is seen as the most likely high-profile casualty of the Hutton inquiry. It was his ministry that had a duty of care towards Dr David Kelly, and his civil servants who confirmed the scientist to the media as the source of Andrew Gilligan's reports. Mr Hoon was bullish when he appeared before Lord Hutton, but his position has worsened since, with the controversy over the lack of protection for British troops in Iraq. Samantha Roberts, whose husband was killed due to not having the enhanced body armour he was entitled to, has called for Mr Hoon to resign. The failure of Peter Hain to back him last weekend is seen as the closest indication yet that the Government may be close to jettisoning him. One persistent rumour within the MoD is that the minister may be moved to Northern Ireland. However sources close to Mr Hoon say he has no intention of being a fall guy. And military commanders are satisfied with his performance in getting them the funding they want.

Battered by adverse publicity during the inquiry, beset with trepidation over the report, there is a bunker mentality among many in the MoD. Lord Hutton is expected to refer to Downing Street's part in the naming of Dr Kelly, but sources say he will criticise the MoD for its alleged failures in the duty of care shown to Dr Kelly. He is also likely to recommend a review of the support given to government employees in such situations.

Dr Kelly floated between the Foreign Office and the MoD in his work, but Downing Street was very keen to stress that the MoD was the "lead" department in dealing with the Gilligan affair. It took Hutton to discover why - the MoD had been set up.

The approach to naming Dr Kelly as the source had been driven by a small group of Tony Blair's advisers, whose crucial meeting on 8 July was chaired by the Prime Minister himself. Sir Kevin Tebbit, the Permanent Secretary at the MoD, was briefed afterwards. Sir Kevin would later tell the inquiry his MoD colleagues felt there was nothing to be gained by naming Dr Kelly. But the decision of the meeting at No 10 made public disclosure inevitable. The MoD was instructed to issue a press release giving details about the source without naming him. Staff were told to confirm the name if it was put to them. Sir Kevin suggested Dr Kelly should appear before the Intelligence and Security Committee, which sits in private, and not the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose sessions are in public and were televised. Geoff Hoon overruled him after consulting No 10. The scientist gave evidence to both committees, apparently after coaching from the MoD.

Richard Hatfield, director of personnel, told the inquiry the support provided for Dr Kelly had been "outstanding", a statement described by Jeremy Gompertz QC, counsel for the Kelly family, as "risible". Lord Hutton must also evaluate differing accounts of a conversation between Mr Gilligan and the MoD press office before his broadcast.

In the frame

Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence

Widely being predicted as the biggest government head to fall. But Mr Hoon, also recipient of criticism over the death of Sgt Steven Roberts in Iraq, is said to be in bullish mood, unwilling to fall on his sword to save the Prime Minister.

Sir Kevin Tebbit, Permanent Undersecretary

Gave devastating evidence putting Tony Blair where he least wanted to be - centre stage in the naming of David Kelly.

Richard Hatfield, Director of Personnel

Came in for stinging attacks from the lawyers representing the Kelly family. If Lord Hutton decides the MoD failed in its duty of care, he will be one of the main targets.

Pam Teare, Director of News

Headed the team which put out a press release with further information about Dr Kelly and confirmed his name to journalists. But she was acting on orders which originated in Downing Street.

Verdicts

Major-General Patrick Cordingley, Gulf War commander hired as expert by 'Today'

The Government was in an awkward position and used the MoD press operation to leak Kelly's name, which we all feel was an unattractive thing to do. I don't believe there's a structural problem at the MoD. Traditionally civil servants thought themselves smarter than serving officers but that has changed.

Jeremy Hardy, Comedian and campaigner

Kelly was a man the Government depressed to death - the rest of us are only hanging on. British soldiers are dying having been sent into battle wearing flip-flops and Garfield aprons. There are hundreds of Iraqi civilians dead and no WMD yet found. We were taken into war on entirely false premises. Will Hoon resign? They don't seem to go, Labour ministers, do they?

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