Prescott: files on Iraq's WMD made me nervous

Intelligence reports that were the evidence that sent British troops into war in Iraq consisted of "a bit of tittle- tattle here and a bit more information there", the former deputy prime minister John Prescott said yesterday.

The flimsiness of those reports made him "a little bit nervous", but did not shake his support for the war, he told the Iraq war inquiry. His role, as he saw it, was to support Tony Blair and keep the Cabinet united. His remarks, on the last day of the summer session of the long-running Chilcot inquiry, will add to widespread doubts about whether Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction were the real reason that Mr Blair committed the UK to war. His deputy appears not to have taken anything he was told by intelligence very seriously. Giving evidence yesterday he airily dismissed the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, saying: "She was always on about the threat of terrorism. Along with it came 'Please give me more money'."

Yet other sources, such as the published diaries of Mr Blair's former press secretary, Alastair Campbell, show that Mr Prescott played an energetic part in rallying cabinet support for a war that was supposedly being fought because of intelligence reports that Iraq maintained a secret armoury of weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Prescott told Sir John Chilcot and his panel that he saw the reports, and they made him "nervous". He said: "I just thought: 'Well, this is the intelligence document; this is what you have. It seems robust, but not enough to justify it.' Certainly what they do in intelligence is a bit of tittle-tattle here and a bit more information there."

The comment provoked outrage from opponents of the war and families who lost loved ones in the conflict.

Mike Aston, whose 30-year-old son Corporal Russell Aston was one of six military policemen killed during a riot in Basra in June 2003, said: "His [Lord Prescott's] remarks are absolutely disgraceful. There are 179 families who have lost their loved ones in this war. It has cost me a son. I have to keep that at the back of my mind to stop it boiling over."

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was one of the first British casualties, said: "I'm disgusted. This is my boy's life they are talking about. The smug look on that man's face made it seem as if it was just a joke to him."

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "It just goes to undermine further any sense that the Government's stated reasons for going into Iraq were accurate.

"We have always suspected that there were other reasons. The sense that we were in there to protect British interests or security is further undermined by what Lord Prescott said."

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said: "If John really believes that, why was he so silent at a time of such a momentous decision that has led to a war that has cost the lives of half a million people?"

The SNP's defence spokesman, Angus Robertson, said: "There can be few more serious decisions than taking a country to war, yet John Prescott has dismissed some of the key intelligence as mere tittle-tattle. His evidence is consistent with what we know about Labour's dodgy dossier and absolutely reinforces the need for Tony Blair to be recalled to the inquiry. Labour's case for war in Iraq looks increasingly flimsy."

Sir John Chilcot and his panel began questioning witnesses in public last November and have now heard from almost everyone most closely involved in the decision to go to war.

From the questions directed yesterday at the former deputy prime minister, it appears that the panel are not convinced there was solid evidence that the former Iraqi regime posed a threat to the West. They are also questioning why the former attorney general Peter Goldsmith concluded that it would be legal to go to war without another resolution from the United Nations.

Lord Prescott said he had not seen the background papers that led Lord Goldsmith to his final conclusion, but said he did not need to. He also contradicted the claim made in Parliament at the time, by Mr Blair and the former foreign secretary Jack Straw that the UK had not applied for a second UN resolution authorising the invasion because the French had announced in advance that they would veto it.

Lord Prescott said they had been wrong to blame "the poor old French". He said he did not know whether Tony Blair had done a private deal with George Bush in 2002 that if the US invaded Iraq, UK troops would go in with them, regardless of the circumstances, because he was not there when the two leaders met. Lord Prescott ended his evidence by dismissing "fashionable" criticism made of Mr Blair, including by some witnesses to the inquiry.

"We have seen a few people gloss over their part in the history of what happened," he said. "I have learnt that true leadership is not about having the benefit of hindsight. It is about having the gift of vision, courage and compassion and I believe that Tony Blair had all those three."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss