Parliament & Politics: Barrister in Iraq trial to give evidence

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A BARRISTER who led the prosecution against four men convicted of selling arms to Iraq is to be questioned by the Scott inquiry at a secret hearing.

Andrew Collins QC, counsel for Customs and Excise, who prosecuted four executives of Ordtech, a military engineering company, will give evidence in private next Wednesday.

It is the first time Lord Justice Scott has extended the privilege of giving formal evidence in private to anyone outside the intelligence services. Eleven members of MI5 and MI6 are known to have given evidence in closed sessions so far.

The inquiry secretary, Christopher Muttukumaru, said yesterday that the judge decided to hear Mr Collins's evidence in private to 'avoid doing anything which could prejudice the outcome of the appeal or any subsequent retrial, or could be seen to'.

Four men, Stuart Blackledge, Paul Grecian, Bryan Mason and Colin Phillips, were convicted at Reading Crown Court in February 1992 after the judge refused to overturn 'gagging orders' by two ministers - Kenneth Baker and Peter Lilley - suppressing government documents crucial to their defence.

Ordtech agreed to supply 300,000 artillery shell fuses to Iraq using false end-user certificates indicating their destination was Jordan. One of defendants, Paul Grecian, maintains he kept members of MI5 fully briefed about Ordtech's intentions.

Unable to mount a strong defence, their lawyers advised them to admit guilt. Three received suspended sentences and a fourth, Colin Phillips, was fined. All four have applied to the Court of Appeal to quash their convictions.

It will be the second time Mr Collins has faced questions from Lord Justice Scott about his conduct of the prosecution. At a private meeting between the two last June, Mr Collins appeared to concede the Government knew that United Kingdom defence exports going to Jordan were really destined for Iraq in breach of government guidelines.

The inquiry has uncovered extensive evidence that the Government was aware Iraq was using Jordan as a diversionary destination to obtain defence equipment it was prohibited from receiving directly. Documents reveal that the Ministry of Defence suspected the true origin of the export was Iraq but the deal was still approved.

Mr Collins insisted information he gave to the trial judge that documents sought by the defence were not 'relevant' was correct. The trial judge accepted Mr Collins's advice and did not see the papers.

Mr Muttukumaru said yesterday that if information important 'in the interests of justice' arose during the hearing, Lord Justice Scott would bring it to the attention of the Court of Appeal.