Step by step, piece by piece, the ugly truth reveals itself

As the three estates - the law, the press and the mandarins - gathered to give evidence, a story emerged that will shake the establishment to the core. Raymond Whitaker reports on week one
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During the hottest week that central London can remember, photographers and cameramen are sweltering outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Passing tourists watch curiously as every now and then this assembly springs into life, mobbing a balding man with a slightly sheepish look on his face and a prim-looking woman with pudding-basin hair and schoolmarmy specs. One or two British holidaymakers might recognise the man from newspaper photographs as Andrew Gilligan of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and the woman as Susan Watts, the science editor on BBC2's Newsnight programme.

But other targets of the cameras appear entirely anonymous, indeed interchangeable: middle-aged men in pinstriped suits. Like Mr Gilligan and Ms Watts, they are here for the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the Ministry of Defence scientist. But it is impossible to tell the lawyers who are here to put the questions from the civil servants arriving to answer them.

All three estates - the law, the press and the mandarins - are converging on Court 73, a room tucked away in a back annexe that has none of the grandeur projected by the Gothic façade on the Strand. There is no coat of arms, wigs are absent and no one wears robes, apart from a couple of female attendants. Lord Hutton's first words on Monday were to allow jackets to be removed; by Wednesday some reporters and spectators were turning up in polo shirts.

With its office-supply shelving and plethora of video screens, Court 73 resembles nothing so much as an IT training room, yet it is not only the state of mind of Dr Kelly that is being examined here. Much wider questions loom over the inquiry, from the interplay of government and the media to the place of the BBC within the media. How should a civil servant who breaks ranks for reasons of conscience be dealt with, by his colleagues and by politicians? Most important, did the Government manipulate the truth to justify going to war, and was a man hounded to death because he sought to expose that manipulation?

It is up to Lord Hutton and his counsel, James Dingemans QC - who must have been a rugby player to be reckoned with if the doggedness of his questioning is any guide - to determine how far to go into these issues. However, much has already been exposed in the first week of the inquiry.

The hi-tech nature of the proceedings was emphasised by the appearance of the first witness, Terence Taylor, on a video link from Australia. A fellow former arms inspector with Dr Kelly, he emphasised the esteem in which his friend was held on both sides of the Atlantic, but could shed little light on why he might have sought to end his own life, despite having stayed in his home not long before his death.

That immediately served to conjure up the ghost of Dr Kelly, who lingered over the first week, as he will over the entire inquiry. The first witness in the courtroom, however, brought an abrupt change of tone - one of many as the week went on. Suddenly memos, emails and official correspondence were flashing up on the screens, and a sharp-featured woman in rimless glasses became the focus of attention as she typed in the commands that would display them, peering at her own screen.

We quickly learned that Dr Kelly was not the only insider to have expressed disquiet about the Government's September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; so had two analysts of the Defence Intelligence Service (DIS), with which he worked closely. An email exchange said a figure in the dossier had "a lot of spin on it". Mainly semantics, said the civil servants on the witness stand; these intelligence analysts, you know, are a rather picky, pedantic breed. But that is how most outsiders see civil servants, a prejudice reinforced by the witnesses' constant refusal to speculate and their repetition of "I cannot recall".

However, if Monday ended with the inner workings of Whitehall still largely murky, by the end of Wednesday the custom and practice of journalism, with particular reference to how it is carried on at the BBC, had been exposed to uncomfortable scrutiny. During hours of questioning, Mr Gilligan admitted he had lost his 2001 diary, as well as the transcript he had made the day after his meeting with Dr Kelly at the Charing Cross Hotel.

All he had to rely on were his notes, typed into a Palm Pilot: "Transformed week before publication to make it sexier. The classic was the 45 minutes. Most things in dossier were double source but that was single source - most people in intelligence weren't happy with it. Campbell. Real information but unreliable, included against our wishes. Not in original draft - dull. He asked if anything else could go in." He had agreed with Dr Kelly what he could use and how to describe his source. Had he made a note of that, Lord Hutton wanted to know. No, he hadn't - in retrospect he should have.

The journalist also had to admit that his first broadcast of the story that No 10 had "sexed up" the September WMD dossier, most notably by inserting the claim that Iraq could use such weapons within 45 minutes, was "not perfect": just after 6am on 29 May he used words that implied Downing Street knew the allegation was wrong. He had not repeated the error in subsequent reports.

As Mr Gilligan squirmed, constantly coming to a halt and re-starting his sentences, his garrulousness in stark contrast to the clipped replies of the previous day, his fellow journalists squirmed with him: who among us could have stood similar dissection of our working methods? But he stuck to the essence of the story - it was Dr Kelly who had first mentioned the 45 minutes, it was Dr Kelly who had first named Alastair Campbell.

The Prime Minister's director of communications was the other unseen presence at the inquiry. There were knowing guffaws from the journalists at the back when Mr Dingemans took Mr Gilligan through a letter of complaint from Mr Campell and a "similar" one from Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the Commons media committee, which arrived at the BBC 37 minutes later. "The words are identical," Mr Gilligan pointed out. If he was not looking good, neither was his adversary, whose stream of vituperative, almost obsessional letters to the BBC on Downing Street notepaper rolled past on the screens.

Mr Campbell was even more firmly in the frame within moments of the sweating Mr Gilligan giving way to the cool Ms Watts. It turned out that Dr Kelly had given her the same story a fortnight before he spoke to the Today reporter. It was there in her shorthand notes: "A mistake to put in, Alastair Campbell seeing something in there, single source, but not corroborated, sounded good." But she had not used it, considering it to be just a piece of gossip.

If Mr Gilligan appeared to be careless with his record-keeping and occasionally with his use of language, you suspected that Ms Watts was what the legal profession would consider to be a model journalist: cautious and meticulous, all her notebooks neatly numbered. Yet she had missed a huge story, as she had begun to suspect when she emailed Dr Kelly after the Gilligan report, asking: "Did I miss a trick?"

The telephone conversation with him that she recorded after that email was the centrepiece of Wednesday morning. Suddenly he was in the room, relaxed, frequently laughing with her. Here, unmediated, was his view of the 45-minute question: "It was a statement that was made and it just got out of all proportion; they were desperate for information; they were pushing hard for information which could be released, that was one that popped up and it was seized on - once they've picked up on it you can't pull it back."

He could not say Mr Campbell had "sexed up" the dossier personally. "All I can say is the No 10 press office, but I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he's responsible for it."

The lack of nuance in the dossier meant it could be interpreted as saying Iraq had a "vast arsenal" of WMD, whereas the concern was its potential to develop them: "It was not so much what they have now but what they would have in the future. But that unfortunately wasn't expressed strongly in the dossier because that takes away the case for war." That is the heart of the most important question facing the inquiry, beside which all the embarrassments for the BBC seem trivial.

If observers ended the third day feeling that Mr Dingemans had given the civil servants an easier ride than the journalists, Thursday soon dispelled that impression. Using the documents like a surgical probe, he exposed a pattern of relentless Government pressure on Dr Kelly, from which the witnesses had done little to spare him. Almost in passing, he wrung an admission from Mr Howard, the DIS deputy chief, that the 45-minute claim had become "noticeably harder" in the final draft of the dossier.

Bryan Wells, Dr Kelly's line manager, said he had not spoken during two grillings of the scientist because he was taking notes. "But you could speak, couldn't you?" Mr Dingemans asked. Not for the first time, Dr Wells laughed helplessly.

As the day went on it became clear that each MoD official who thought he had resolved the matter - and gave Dr Kelly that impression - was overruled by his superior as the intimidation moved up the ladder. The permanent secretary, Sir Kevin Tebbit, wanted to spare him a public appearance before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, but was in his turn countermanded by the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, for "presentational" reasons, a decision in which Downing Street concurred.

Mr Howard, the DIS deputy chief, met Dr Kelly before the committee hearing to discuss his testimony. He denied "coaching" the scientist; Dr Wells - who handed Dr Kelly a formal letter of reprimand at the end of the meeting - did not recollect using the words "tricky areas", only to be shown that they appeared in his notes and those of everyone else present, including Dr Kelly's. Dr Wells kept describing his considerably older subordinate as "composed", while an MoD note recorded Mr Howard as saying he "is apparently feeling the pressure and is not handling it well".

Mr Dingemans wanted to know why it had been considered necessary to issue a press statement saying an unidentified official had come forward to admit to meeting Mr Gilligan. Because of the public interest, said the witnesses, but it was becoming clear by now that it was because of the intense interest at the top of government. The names of John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Sir David Manning, Downing Street's foreign policy adviser, and Mr Campbell began to appear on documents.

Finally, with just over an hour of the week's hearings left, Tony Blair himself was mentioned for the first time. It emerged that Dr Kelly had been summoned back from a training course for a second interview because the Prime Minister wanted more detail on discrepancies between his account and Mr Gilligan's of their meeting before deciding on "the next steps". Even when the scientist went to his death in the Oxfordshire countryside, the MoD was trying to contact him to answer parliamentary questions about his dealings with the press; it is possible that in his final moments his mobile was ringing with a call from Dr Wells.

After the journalists and the mandarins, Mr Dingemans will be dealing with a new class this week, the unelected special advisers - including Mr Campbell - whose power has ranged so far in this Government. Next week, he is expected to get to the politicians, including Mr Hoon and Mr Blair, fresh back from Barbados. All to determine why one rather enigmatic scientist apparently chose to do away with himself.

But a lone protester camped outside the Royal Courts of Justice all of last week tried to ensure that those entering the building did not forget the wider issue. "Dr Kelly dead - sad" read the poster that he had fixed to the railings. "Thousands upon thousands of Iraqis dead as result of British and USA actions 1991-2003. So what?" However crudely put, it poses a question that many people hope the Hutton inquiry can go some way towards answering.

Memos and letters that put Kelly in the public eye

30 June: David Kelly to Bryan Wells, director of counter-proliferation and arms control at the Ministry of Defence. "With hindsight I deeply regret talking to Andrew Gilligan, even though I am convinced I am not his primary source of information."

4 July: Sir Kevin Tebbit, permanent secretary at the MoD, to Sir David Omand, permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office: "An official in the MoD has volunteered that he had a discussion with Andrew Gilligan on 22 May ... I do believe it necessary to have defensive material available should the story leak."

7 July: John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, to Sir David Omand: "I agree with Kevin Tebbit's letter that the finger points strongly at David Kelly as Gilligan's source ... Conclusion: Kelly needs a proper security-style interview in which all these inconsistencies are thrashed out."

9 July: Richard Hatfield, personnel director at the Ministry of Defence, to David Kelly: "Your contact with Gilligan was particularly ill-judged. Your discussion with him has also had awkward consequences ... your behaviour fell well short of the standard that I would expect from a civil servant of your standing and experience."

10 July: Memo from Sir Kevin Tebbit to Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary: "There have been requests to you for Dr Kelly to appear before both the FAC and the ISC ... as regards the FAC, I recommend you resist. A reason... is to show some regard for the man himself. He has come forward voluntarily, is not used to being in the public eye, and is not on trial."

11 July: Peter Watkins, Geoff Hoon's private secretary, to Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary: "Presentationally, it would be difficult to defend a position in which the Government had objected to Dr Kelly appearing before a committee of the House which takes evidence in public in favour of an appointed committee which meets in private."