Star witness Blair faces questions on role over dossier

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will be the star witness to the Hutton inquiry this week, facing direct questions about his role in the preparation of the disputed dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and his part in events leading up to the death of Dr David Kelly.

The Prime Minister, whose intense personal interest in the Kelly affair was revealed at the inquiry last week, is due to give evidence on Thursday. He will appear the day after the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, who has already told friends he expects to "fall on his sword" for the good of the Government.

Mr Blair is likely to face questions on the strategy to name Dr Kelly as the source of a BBC story, his decision to back plans for the scientist to be subject to a second "security-style interview", and his attitude to Dr Kelly appearing to give evidence in public to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC).

The Prime Minister may be asked about his attitude to communications chief Alastair Campbell's war on the BBC. More crucially, the inquiry will want to know what was Mr Blair's role in authorising or influencing changes to the September dossier.

The inquiry's first witness on Tuesday, when Lord Hutton resumes work after the Bank Holiday, will be Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay, a member of the FAC. His abrasive questioning of Dr Kelly - whom he suggested was "chaff" - came in for the severest criticism after the scientist's death.

The committee's role in the Kelly affair gained renewed prominence when its chairman, Donald Anderson MP, disclosed to the inquiry that Mr Hoon had sought to prevent Dr Kelly being questioned about his views on the September dossier and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The author of that dossier, John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), will also give evidence this week. The inquiry will want to know how the dossier was put together and whether No 10 played a significant role in its compilation. Mr Campbell insisted last week that he had "no input, no output or influence" on the document beyond making suggestions about presentation.

Lord Hutton will also hear from Mr Hoon, widely expected to be the Government's fall guy. He will be questioned about his decision to overrule his department's top civil servant, Sir Kevin Tebbit, who warned that Dr Kelly should not be required to give evidence in public to the FAC. Mr Hoon will also face questions about the MoD's "naming strategy".

Other witnesses should include Sir David Omand, the Prime Minister's chief security co-ordinator, who played a key role in the Government's reaction to the news that Dr Kelly had met BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan. BBC chairman Gavyn Davies will also take the stand this week, along with Tom Mangold, an investigative journalist who was a close friend of Dr Kelly, and Ann Taylor, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Her committee, which held sessions in private, did not interview Dr Kelly but heard from other key witnesses for a report which will be delivered to the Prime Minister.