No one escaped unscathed in week of dramatic twists and turns

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Indy Politics

At 2.48 on a hot and slow afternoon in the Hutton inquiry, Martin Howard, an intelligence chief, casually dropped into his evidence that the Prime Minister had personally intervened in the case of David Kelly. Amid the frantic scratching of journalists' pens on their notebooks, there was a loud whisper, "torpedo running".

By the end of this first week of the inquiry, any hopes Tony Blair and his government may have had that Lord Hutton would confine himself to the narrow channel of the immediate circumstances of Dr Kelly's death have evaporated.

In a series of meticulously crafted questions, James Dingemans QC, counsel for the inquiry, has drawn witnesses into the incendiary issue of the Government's case for war on Iraq. With the timing of a conjurer, he has produced a deck of hitherto undisclosed official documents that give a tantalising insight into how the September weapons dossier, the justification for the invasion, was constructed, and the level of friction and disquiet it created.

The inquiry was shown successive drafts of the now notorious September dossier, something the MPs in the Foreign Affairs Committee had asked for from the Government and been refused. Mr Dingemans asked Mr Howard why the drafts were not made public. Why were they not given to the Foreign Affairs Committee? As Mr Howard squirmed, the QC took him through the various stages of the document as the Government tried to prove Saddam Hussein could launch a chemical and biological attack within 45 minutes.

The final version, said Mr Dingemans, "is noticeably harder. Is that fair, hmm?" Mr Howard had to reply, "I think that is fair, yes."

It is in this context, of a government buffeted by rising claims of deception, and simmering discontent in the intelligence community and Civil Service, that one can see why finding the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan's "mole" on the "sexed-up" dossier story became an obsession reaching the very top of the political establishment. Tony Blair, and Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's communications chief, Sir David Omand, the security co-ordinator at Downing Street, Sir Kevin Tebbit, the most senior civil servant at the MoD, Mr Howard, the deputy chief of Defence Intelligence. They were all apparently exercised by the thought of nailing one civil servant who had not committed treason, or any crime, but merely questioned a questionable government claim.

Mr Blair wanted the intelligence services to escalate their investigation of Dr Kelly. Mr Hoon ignored Sir Kevin's advice and threw Dr Kelly to public questioning by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr Scarlett wanted to give him a "security-style" interrogation. Sir Kevin did try to save the scientist from the publicity of the FAC but agreed to the demand for further grilling, when Dr Kelly had been assured the matter had been closed after one meeting and a reprimand.

Mr Howard said that he was merely following orders to carry out a second interview with Dr Kelly.

And of course, sucked into this atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion was David Kelly. Encouraged by the Government to talk to the media about WMDs as long as he sang from the same hymn sheet, and then cast aside and hounded when he told the journalists of his qualms about the dossier.

One of the memorable experiences in the hearing has been the parade of civil servants who appeared in the witness box to praise their dead colleague when evidence showed they were not supporting him during the last weeks of his life. There was Patrick Lamb, deputy head of counter-proliferation at the Foreign Office, who told Lord Hutton he had offered sympathy to Dr Kelly over his predicament and anxiously inquired whether his pension rights would be unaffected. Yet it was the same Mr Lamb who had, in effect, "shopped" the scientist as Mr Gilligan's source to Mr Howard at a drinks reception at MI5 HQ.

Then there was Bryan Wells, Dr Kelly's line manager. He told the inquiry his main thought was "what was best for David". Yet in the two grillings Dr Kelly received at the MoD, Mr Wells had not uttered a word in his support. "I was taking notes," he said. "But you could speak, couldn't you?" asked Mr Dingemans caustically.

Then there was Richard Hatfield, director of personnel at the MoD, who had reprimanded Dr Kelly for his meeting with Mr Gilligan. It was unauthorised, he kept saying, Dr Kelly should have read the rules. Yet documents produced by Mr Dingemans showed Mr Hatfield's department knew about and encouraged the scientist's contact with the media.

There are, of course, two sides to this story - the Government and the BBC, Andrew Gilligan and Alastair Campbell. That, at least, is the way the inquiry has come across. It would be in the interests of Downing Street to maintain that line. The corporation would much rather see the tribunal turn into an examination of the Government's justification for war.

Mr Gilligan had the longest time in the witness box and the most hostile questioning. He has, however, had some practice in coping with this after his two bruising sessions with the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr Gilligan, who has lost a stone and a half in the past few weeks, thanks, he says, to the "Campbell Diet", stood by his claim that Dr Kelly had told him that Mr Campbell had been responsible for the "transformation" of the September dossier the week before publication. In fact, he even went further, maintaining that included the insertion of the "45 minutes" threat.

The Radio 4 defence and diplomatic correspondent also claimed, for the first time, that he had agreed with Dr Kelly upon quotes that could be used for his news reports, and had, indeed, left out certain matters at the scientist's request.

However, Mr Gilligan had to admit to the inquiry he should not have said in his first early-morning broadcast that Downing Street had the "45 minutes" claim put in knowing it was "probably wrong". He acknowledged Dr Kelly had told him the single source for the claim was "unreliable", but that did not necessarily mean the Government knew it was wrong.

Mr Gilligan repeatedly protested he had made that mistake only once, in an unscripted "two-way" at 6am and not subsequently repeated. But Mr Campbell's newspaper allies were cock-a-hoop.

Their joy was increased when Mr Dingemans produced a BBC internal memo in which the editor of the Today programme had said of Mr Gilligan's broadcast: "This story was a good piece of journalism marred by flawed reporting. Our biggest millstone has been his loose use of language and lack of judgement."

But there was huge consternation, when, right at the close of proceedings, Susan Watts, the science editor of Newsnight, told the tribunal that Dr Kelly had told her about Mr Campbell's involvement in the September dossier a full two weeks before making the same allegation to Mr Gilligan. She had failed to act on it because she considered it a "gossipy aside".

But the inquiry has been nothing if not full of surprising twists. The next morning, Ms Watts vehemently declared her information was not the same as Mr Gilligan's. And indeed that was the case: Dr Kelly had told her much more than he told Mr Gilligan about Mr Campbell's role in the dossier. He was to say even more in a second conversation.

Ms Watts managed to miss out most of this in broadcasts she made. She appeared to be rather aggrieved her version did not get as much publicity or led to any government complaint, unlike Mr Gilligan's.

But she had one trick up her sleeve. Accompanied by a solicitor (paid for by the BBC) she castigated her employers for putting a lot of pressure on her to support the BBC in its battle with Downing Street.

A third BBC journalist, Gavin Hewitt, a special correspondent on The Ten O'Clock News, also gave evidence that Dr Kelly had spoken of "No 10 spin coming into play".

The story of friction inside the BBC was good news for Downing Street - but that changed again with the revelation of Mr Blair's and Mr Hoon's intervention in the Kelly investigation. The focus will remain on the Government as officials including Mr Campbell give evidence.

What of the man whose death this inquiry is all about ? It has now been stated at the hearing that he misled the Foreign Affairs Committee about his contacts with Ms Watts, and Mr Hewitt, and indeed, his own superiors in the MoD about the extent of his role in the Gilligan story.

Although we now have a clearer idea of the stress he was under in his final weeks, we still don't know precisely why Dr Kelly took his life. But the death of the scientist has given Britain a rare glimpse of the inner workings of government and the intelligence services.



The BBC journalist had a rough ride and was uneasy when he admitted he ought not to have claimed that No 10 insisted on the 45-minute claim despite knowing it to be false. But Ms Watts' admission that Dr Kelly had named Mr Campbell too, and Dr Kelly's own words on tape appear to back him up. He spotted the story, even if his execution of it may not have been perfect.


While a highly respected expert and far from a "middle-ranking official", Dr Kelly made conflicting statements on the dossier, telling bosses it was "completely coincident with my own personal views" but citing "unease of some substance" among his colleagues to reporters.His worries were shared by at least two members of Defence Intelligence Staff.


Dr Kelly named him to Susan Watts in a call on 7 May. Evidence shows that a letter of 8 July from Martin Howard, deputy director of Defence Intelligence, to John Scarlett, was copied to Mr Campbell. Mr Campbell is said not to have approved but merely to have "noted" the naming strategy of the MoD press office. This distinction may not survive close questioning.


A letter from Mr Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee suggested a "security-style interview" for Dr Kelly. It is unclear whether Lord Hutton will call Mr Scarlett in public but it is inconceivable he will not be called at all. He will have to say whether he suggested to Nik Gowing, a BBC journalist, that he was not totally happy with the dossier.


Ms Watts stuck the knife into the BBC and Mr Gilligan. She raised questions as to why she dismissed as "glib" Dr Kelly's mention of Alastair Campbell and why she ignored his reference to the role of the "No 10 press office" in the revising of the dossier. It is unclear why she did not follow up what and how Dr Kelly knew about the press office's involvement.


The Prime Minister's role in the way Dr Kelly was questioned became apparent this week, contradicting claims that Mr Blair had taken a "hands-off" approach. Martin Howard said he had been told by Sir David Omand, Mr Blair's security co-ordinator, that the Prime Minister wanted "to go into a bit more detail into the differences" between Dr Kelly's and Mr Gilligan's statements.


His future is on the line after the inquiry was told he had overruled Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MoD's permanent secretary, in making Dr Kelly appear in public before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. "Presentationally", it would be difficult for him and the MoD if Dr Kelly only appeared in private before the Intelligence and Security Committee, Mr Hoon said.


The Foreign Secretary was damned in Ms Watts' recorded conversation with Dr Kelly when the scientist questioned Anglo-American claims on Iraq's military capabilities. "I didn't think the British had a definitive position on Iraq's exact capability in that only Bush/Straw said they had such and such. That was spin," Dr Kelly said.


A former director of GCHQ, Sir Kevin opposed the idea of forcing Dr Kelly to appear in public but his role in the naming strategy is unclear. Called for consideration for Dr Kelly - a plea apparently ignored by Geoff Hoon. But he may be asked why he described Dr Kelly as "eccentric" over dinner with James Robbins, BBC diplomatic correspondent.