The Hutton inquiry: A government in the dock

Lord Hutton spelled out yesterday that his inquiry into David Kelly's death will be wide-ranging, making it inevitable that the Government's case for war in Iraq will be scrutinised.

Tony Blair is expected to be questioned by lawyers representing the BBC and Dr Kelly's family, as well as by counsel to the inquiry.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and Mr Blair's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, will also be asked to give evidence, along with some of the most senior civil servants in Whitehall. They will be forced to explain their roles in the handling of the Kelly affair. Lord Hutton also issued questions that he wants the main players to answer.

Yesterday's hearing was told that Dr Kelly, regarded as the country's leading expert on chemical and biological weapons, had removed his glasses and watch before he committed suicide close to his home at Southmoor, Oxfordshire, two weeks ago.

A post-mortem examination showed that he had been suffering from a heart condition, and was wearing four electro-cardiogram patches, apparently for tests he had undergone.

In what was seen as a significant move, Lord Hutton said that the first witness he intended to call when the full hearings begin on 11 August would be a government official. That official would be asked "to give evidence of Dr Kelly's expertise in chemical and biological warfare and of his employment in the Government and of his knowledge of the September dossier and of any part he played in the preparation of that dossier", he said.

It is anticipated that such a line of inquiry will lead on to why Dr Kelly expressed doubts about the Government's dossiers on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The only other serving prime minister to have appeared before an inquiry in public is John Major, at the Scott inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq affair in 1994.

Last night, opposition parties said that the scope of Lord Hutton's inquiry would shed light on Mr Blair's rationale for going to war against Saddam Hussein. Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "It will clearly go deep, and in going deep I hope it will also go wide enough to give everybody a clearer idea of the way in which the Government handled the presentation of intelligence material."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that Lord Hutton clearly meant to ensure that "no stone is left unturned". Mr Kennedy said: "The questions which are already beginning to arise inevitably point to some kind of outcome which will allow a much better informed judgement of the efficacy upon which this war was conducted."

The scientist's widow, Janice, will be a witness, as will Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who claimed, using Dr Kelly as a source, that the Government had "sexed up" last September's dossier. Evidence will also be given by the BBC journalists, Susan Watts and Gavin Hewitt, and Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the board of governors of the BBC.

At yesterday's preliminary hearing at the High Court, Lord Hutton moved to dispel suspicions that his inquiry would be a whitewash. He said: "This inquiry is to be conducted ­ and I stress it ­ by myself. It is I, and I alone, who will decide what witnesses will be called. I also decide to what matters their evidence will be directed."

Lord Hutton said he had received a "large quantity of material" from the Government, and had also demanded to see all communications between No 10, the Ministry of Defence, and other ministries regarding the scientist.

Last night the MoD confirmed that a "media plan" relating to Dr Kelly was found in a classified incineration waste bag at the ministry by security guards three days after the scientist's death, but they described the document as "insignificant".

Lord Hutton said he would be questioning "witnesses from the Ministry of Defence and other government departments ­ officials, and the Prime Minister's director of communications and strategy, Mr Alastair Campbell, and ministers".

Lord Hutton, who began yesterday's sitting with a minute's silence in memory of Dr Kelly, disclosed new details about the scientist's last days. Dr Kelly had written to a superior in the MoD, accusing Mr Gilligan of "considerable embellishment" of their conversation during a meeting at a London hotel.

No 10 claimed Dr Kelly had received only a "mild reprimand" for his dealings with Mr Gilligan but Lord Hutton revealed that the MoD's personnel director had told the scientist in a letter that his behaviour had fallen well short of the standard that he would have expected from a civil servant of his standing and experience.

In a statement, Dr Nicholas Hunt, a Home Office pathologist, said that Dr Kelly's death was caused by bleeding from an incised wound to his left wrist. He said: "The fact the watch appears to have been removed whilst blood was already flowing suggests that it has been removed deliberately in order to facilitate access to the wrist. The removal of the watch and the removal of the spectacles are features pointing towards this being an act of self-harm."

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