The extent to which Downing Street sought to convince a doubting British public of the need to go to war in Iraq was exposed before the Hutton inquiry yesterday.
Hitherto unpublished official papers disclosed at the inquiry showed grave doubts at the highest level of government about its own case for supporting the invasion of Iraq.
Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, admitted a week before the publication of the Iraq weapons dossier that it did "nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam", the inquiry was told yesterday.
The Prime Minister had already authorised a "substantial rewrite" of the document, before the complaint by Mr Powell.
The latest in a series of highly damaging revelations came as the inquiry focused on the role of Downing Street, not only in the circumstances of David Kelly's death but in the wider issues surrounding the countdown to war.
With the credibility of Mr Blair's government increasingly at stake, Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications and strategy, will take the witness stand today to answer questions on his role.
Mr Campbell has vehemently denied the allegation that he "sexed up" last September's dossier, while the Prime Minister has declared that this was the most serious charge that could be levelled against a government.
Yesterday the inquiry was shown an e-mail from Mr Campbell to Jonathan Powell, dated 5 September, 19 days before the dossier was published, disclosing that the document was being substantially rewritten.
It said: "Re dossier, substantial rewrite with JS and Julian M in charge, which JS will take to US next Friday, and be in shape Monday thereafter. Structure as per TB's discussion. Agreement that there has to be real intelligence material in their presentation." JS apparently referred to John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, while Julian Miller was the chief of the assessment staff at the Cabinet Office.
But despite the "substantial rewrite" 12 days earlier, with the date of publication approaching, Mr Powell reflected the alarm within No 10 that the intelligence services had failed to produce the smoking gun that would swing public opinion behind war.
The e-mail to Mr Scarlett, in charge of compiling the dossier, stated: "The dossier is good and convincing for those who are prepared to be convinced. The document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam ... We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he is an imminent threat. In other words it shows he has the means, but it does not demonstrate that he has the motive to attack his neighbours, let alone the West."
The e-mail also sought further information on the Iraqi regime's alleged links with al-Qa'ida. Efforts had been made to blank out a section that said: "The document says nothing about these, and TB will need ..."
The inquiry had been told that a draft dossier produced on 5 September did not contain the now notorious claim that Iraq would be able to launch a chemical and biological attack within 45 minutes. However, in the final version published on 24 September, Tony Blair declared in the foreword that Saddam Hussein would be "ready" to carry out the 45-minute threat.
Yesterday there was further discomfort for Downing Street with the disclosure of tension and acrimony over its festering feud with the BBC over the reporter Andrew Gilligan's claim that the Government had inserted the "45-minute" threat into the dossier despite scepticism from the intelligence services.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman Tom Kelly had written in an e-mail to Mr Powell: "This is now a game of chicken with the Beeb. The only way they will shift is if they see the screw tightening."
Mr Blair's spokesman, who referred to Dr Kelly, described by international experts as one of Britain's foremost authorities on biological weapons, as a "Walter Mitty"-type fantasist, will give his evidence tomorrow.
The inquiry was told that a letter sent to Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the BBC's board of governors, from the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, was a virtual copy of the wording used in a memorandum by Mr Campbell.
Contradicting Downing Street claims that the Kelly affair was left as an internal matter for the Ministry of Defence, it was disclosed yesterday that Mr Blair himself chaired crisis meetings in No 10 on successive days after it was revealed that the scientist could be the source of Mr Gilligan's "sexing-up" claims on Radio 4's Today programme. Documents produced at the hearing revealed that Downing Street played a central role in drafting a press statement by the MoD announcing that an unnamed official had admitted meeting Mr Gilligan in a hotel in central London.
As a further indication of Mr Blair's difficulties in rebuilding public confidence, a poll by ICM published in today's Guardian revealed that only six per cent of people believe that the Government is more trustworthy than the BBC. Half of those polled also believed the Government had deliberately embellished the dossier to strengthen its case for the war.
5 SEPT E-MAIL
This memo to Jonathan Powell from Alastair Campbell makes clear that the very first draft of the Iraq dossier was not strong enough. The phrase "substantial rewrite" shows that Mr Campbell had agreed that John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and Julian Miller, head of the JIC assessment staff, should come up with a new version. The e-mail also suggests No 10 wanted "real intelligence". This would explain why the 45-minute claim was seized on so eagerly.
17 SEPT E-MAIL
Mr Powell's description of the dossier as "convincing for those who are prepared to be convinced" is extraordinary, and betrays the level of doubt within the Government. He states that the Government should make clear it has no evidence that Iraq is an "imminent threat".
Published on 24 September, Mr Blair's own phrase, "current and serious threat", led MPs and the public to believe that Saddam should be dealt with urgently. But this contradicts Mr Powell's e-mail advice of only a week earlier. Presenting the 45-minute claim in his foreword as a fact suggests the dossier was hardened up, despite the qualms of some defence intelligence staff officers.Reuse content