Straw lays blame on Campbell for 'dodgy' dossier

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Indy Politics

Alastair Campbell commissioned a Downing Street dossier on Iraq that proved to be "a very great embarrassment" to Government, Jack Straw admitted yesterday.

The Foreign Secretary told a Commons inquiry - an inquiry Mr Campbell faces today - that Tony Blair's director of communications was behind the "dodgy dossier". Part of the report, published in February, had been plagiarised from 12-year-old academic research on Iraq.

Mr Straw also told the Commons foreign affairs committee investigating the approach to the war that it was "completely untrue" Downing Street had tried to beef up intelligence reports in another dossier in September.

He denied the first document was "sexed up" or a claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy biological, or chemical weapons in 45 minutes was inserted for political purposes.

He stressed neither he nor Mr Blair had said the Iraqi dictator posed an "imminent" or "immediate" threat to peace.

But Mr Straw made clear that Mr Campbell was personally responsible for the second dossier. "Mr Campbell commissioned it," he said. "The request went into the system, then back to him ... It was authorised by the Prime Minister. It was an entirely reasonable assumption by the Prime Minister that it had come up through the normal channels." The Foreign Secretary said Mr Blair was the only minister consulted about the document. Its contents were accurate but because its sources had not been made clear, it made it "a complete Horlicks", he said.

Attention will focus today on the four civil servants whose names originally appeared alongside the dossier on the Downing Street website.

Sir Michael Jay, the head of the diplomatic service, told the committee that one official, Paul Hamill, had the title of "head of story development" in Mr Campbell's communications information centre. Mr Campbell is expected to defend the three other officials as junior staff who had no role in authorship of the dossier.

Mr Straw blamed the demands of a 24-hour media for the fact the "briefing paper" for journalists had not been cleared with officials or ministers. But he insisted the Government followed the right procedures with the first dossier. "It was checked and double-checked by senior officials and was not signed off until the chairman of the JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] was satisfied with it," he said.

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Blair clearly implied in March that Saddam posed an imminent threat.

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