From the moment Lord Hutton walked into a packed Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, it was clear this judge was very much his own man.
After a brief nod to the assembled ranks of lawyers and gathered media, he insisted that the entire court stand for a minute's silence in honour of David Kelly, the scientist whose death could yet bring down a Prime Minister.
Once the court clock had chimed 11 times, the former lord chief justice of Northern Ireland took his seat to present the methodology and scope of his inquiry.
Apart from Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, none of the main protagonists in the affair was present in court. Yet Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter at the centre of the controversy, Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's communications director, and Tony Blair himself would have been left under no illusions that Lord Hutton's investigation would not be thorough and utterly focused.
In his opening 35-minute statement to the preliminary hearing, Lord Hutton stressed repeatedly that his inquiry was "not a trial" between interested parties. Witnesses will not have to swear an oath, lawyers will not have full advance disclosure of evidence, cross examination will be limited to only those matters and witnesses the judge sees fit.
His "primary task" was to investigate the circumstances surrounding the weapons expert's death involving a careful examination of the relevant facts, he said.
Perhaps to the surprise of many who predict that the hearing will last until late in the year, Lord Hutton insisted that his terms of reference were to conduct the investigation "urgently". "That means I must proceed with expedition and I have no doubt that it is in the public interest that I should do so," he said.
His third main concern was to ensure the inquiry procedures were fair to all who gave evidence. As a result he unveiled an unusual, two-stage structure for the hearings, with evidence gathered neutrally in its first half and examination and cross-examination in the second half.
Crucially, Lord Hutton said that those witnesses who were subject to "possible criticisms" would be most likely to be recalled for cross-examination. "The extent of that examination will be confined to what I think is helpful to the inquiry," he said.
The peer made clear that he would not widen his investigation to cover the whole issue of the Government's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Similarly, he stressed that he was not presiding as referee in the battle between Downing Street and the BBC.
"It is important that I should emphasise that this is an inquiry to be conducted by me - it is not a trial conducted between interested parties who have conflicting cases in advance," he said. "I do not sit to decide between conflicting cases, I sit to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly's death."
In an outline of the facts known to him to date, based on documents sent by the BBC, Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office, Lord Hutton revealed several new facts as well as rehearsing the progress of the Kelly affair.
Chief among the revelations was a letter written by Dr Kelly to his line manager at the MoD in which he admitted meeting with Mr Gilligan on 22 May.
In the letter, the scientist stressed he had met the journalist "privately to discuss his Iraq experiences and definitely not to discuss the dossier".
Dr Kelly wrote: "I did not even consider that I was the source of Gilligan's information until a friend in RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) said I should look at the oral evidence provided to the Foreign Affairs Committee on June 19 because she recognised that some of the comments were the sort I would make about Iraq's chemical and biological capacity.
"The description of that meeting in small part matches my interaction with him, especially my personal evaluation of Iraq's capability, but the overall character is quite different.
"I can only conclude one of three things. Gilligan has considerably embellished my meeting with him; he has met with other individuals who truly were intimately associated with the dossier; or he has assembled comments from both multiple, direct and indirect sources for his articles."
Lord Hutton went on to reveal the contents of a letter dated 9 July from the Personnel Director of the MoD to Dr Kelly. The letter stated that Dr Kelly's "behaviour had fallen well short of the standard that he would have expected from a civil servant of his standing and experience", but "it would not be appropriate to initiate formal disciplinary proceedings".
The judge also revealed for the first time that Dr Kelly rang his line manager on 10 July, the day his name was published in newspapers, to say he was in Weston-super-Mare, on his way to Cornwall.
Between 10 July and 14 July, the scientist returned from Cornwall to stay with one of his daughters in Oxford. Lord Hutton said he may call the daughter, along with Dr Kelly's widow.
In another surprise, Lord Hutton said that four electro-cardiogram electrode pads were found on Dr Kelly's chest, two over each side of the upper chest area and two over each side of the lower chest area.
The judge listed the witnesses he intends to call and the areas he wants to examine closely. Chief among them are Mr Blair, Mr Gilligan, Mr Campbell, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and Downing Street and other Government officials.
Copies of "letters, memoranda, reports and other documents" passed between the MoD and other Government officials must all be handed over.
Other key witnesses will be Susan Watts and Gavin Hewitt, the BBC reporters who also spoke to Dr Kelly; Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC; Donald Anderson, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select committee; and Ann Taylor, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Thames Valley police will give evidence, and experts will be called to assess the medical and psychiatric health of Dr Kelly. Members of the scientist's Bahai faith will also give evidence.
Lord Hutton stressed "the public must know every word of evidence which is spoken at this inquiry and should know the full contents of every document referred to in evidence." A full transcript will be available on the website www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk. The hearing proper will begin on 11 August.
Court 73 scene of epic legal battles
By Cahal Milmo
Despite opening for business only nine years ago, Court 73 at the neo-Gothic Royal Courts of Justice has already served as the arena for hard-fought legal battles.
For eight weeks in 2000, the court was the scene of the libel case brought by David Irving against Penguin books over the claim that the revisionist historian was a "Holocaust denier". Mr Irving lost and was declared bankrupt after he failed to pay costs said to be £2.5m.
Court 73 was opened by the Queen in 1994 as part of a hi-tech annexe in the High Court on the Strand in central London capable of hearing cases using video equipment and computer links. The court is kitted out with pale beech tables, office chairs and laptops.
Shirley Porter, the disgraced former leader of Westminster City Council, appeared there six years ago in an attempt to overturn the £27m surcharge imposed on her and four colleagues in the "homes for votes" scandal. The Tesco heiress lost and is in self-exile in Israel after failing to obey an order to reveal her assets.
In 1995, Kevin and Ian Maxwell applied to the court to drop charges that they conspired to defraud pensioners of Mirror Group Newspapers while it was owned by their father, the tycoon Robert Maxwell. The application was dismissed but they were cleared after an eight-month trial costing £25m.Reuse content