New documents throw doubt on Hoon's evidence

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Indy Politics

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, came under fresh political pressure last night after Hutton inquiry documents showed that he may have misled Parliament over the Government's dossier on Iraq.

A letter to Mr Hoon shows that he was advised to tell MPs that intelligence staff concerns on the dossier were "fully aired ... within the Joint Intelligence Committee".

The claim contrasts sharply with testimony from John Scarlett, the JIC chairman, who has since said that he was "not at all aware" of any unhappiness with the dossier.

The fresh controversy surfaced as Mr Hoon faced calls in the Commons for a full judicial inquiry into the war on Iraq. Tory and Labour MPs said that a further investigation was needed to go beyond the remit of Lord Hutton.

The Defence Secretary was given detailed advice by Martin Howard, the deputy chief of Defence Intelligence, as he prepared to appear before the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) in July.

The parliamentary committee, whose report into the use of intelligence on Iraq will be published tomorrow, questioned Mr Hoon in private on intelligence staff concerns about the dossier.

Members of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), led by their boss Brian Jones, were worried by parts of the dossier, such as the now notorious claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.

Mr Howard's letter to the Defence Secretary outlines the "lines to take" for the minister as he gave evidence alongside Air Marshal Joe French, the former Chief of Defence Intelligence.

"The ISC is likely to probe the Secretary of State and former CDI about the process through which members of the DIS can express concerns about the misuse of intelligence. And on whether it was used at the time of the September dossier," it states.

"How should we respond? Recommendation: that the Secretary of State notes these concerns were fully aired as part of the process of reaching consensus within the DIS and within the JIC."

Although it is now clear that the DIS had indeed discussed its members' worries at great length, the Hutton inquiry has been repeatedly told that the JIC itself knew nothing of the dissent.

As well as Mr Scarlett's testimony, Sir David Omand, another member of the JIC, has said he was unaware of the concerns. Mr Howard himself told Lord Hutton that it was "unlikely" that "every single view of every single analyst was passed on".

If Mr Hoon followed Mr Howard's advice, the Intelligence and Security Committee would have been given false information about the extent to which DIS concerns were aired.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, said last night: "At the very least, all the relevant parties should reappear before the inquiry.

"There is also a question for Parliament here: were we given information which was subsequently proved to be inaccurate?"