Tipped to be a scapegoat, Hoon is unscathed

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Indy Politics

Downing Street had taken pains to stress that the Ministry of Defence was the "lead department" in the David Kelly affair.

Within the MoD there were growing worries that they might have to carry the can for No 10. But according to Lord Hutton yesterday, there was nothing much to carry.

The MoD, which handled Dr Kelly once he had come forward as the source for the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan's allegations that the Government sexed up the dossier, was the only arm of the Government to come in for a degree of blame in the report.

However, the criticism was nothing like as damning as what was fired at the BBC, and the law lord was keen to water down the blame by pointing out mitigating factors.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, widely tipped to be the most high-profile sacrifice, was not subjected to any personal criticism and his colleagues were forcefully declaring yesterday that he had been vindicated. There was anger directed at his many detractors, some within the Government, who were accused of "dancing on his grave".

Particular bitterness was directed towards Peter Hain, Leader of the Commons, who is thought to have deliberately undermined him. According to defence sources, Mr Hoon will continue in his post, his position buttressed by Lord Hutton. At some point he may be moved to Trade and Industry, a portfolio he is said to desire, but that will be later rather than sooner.

Senior civil servants at the MoD, on the whole, avoided any great censure from Lord Hutton. Richard Hatfield, director of personnel, was predicted to be in the firing line. During the hearing he said that the duty of care and support shown to Dr Kelly was "outstanding". The only thing he would have done differently, he said, in the light of what had transpired, was to have suspended the scientist and instituted formal disciplinary proceedings against him. Mr Hatfield came in for stinging attacks by the counsel for Dr Kelly's family, who described some of his statements as "risible". But Lord Hutton concluded yesterday that Dr Kelly was " not an easy man to help or give advice to", and he attached no blame to Mr Hatfield for the treatment the scientist received.

The civil servants in the MoD involved in the Kelly controversy, particularly in the press office, feel they were unfairly portrayed. They feel that many journalists, in particular, have been hypocritical, clamouring to know the identity of the scientist when it emerged that he had come forward as Mr Gilligan's source, and then castigating them when they were told his name. They also point out that they were following instructions from far higher up.

One of the main charges against the Government, from the counsel for Dr Kelly's family and the BBC, was that it had contrived to expose Dr Kelly's name in the public domain.

A press release was issued giving detailed information about his background, making identification inevitable, while the MoD press office was instructed to confirm the name to journalists. The policy was formulated at a meeting in Downing Street, chaired by the Prime Minister on 8 July, and attended, among others, by Alastair Campbell, his then director of communications, Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff and John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee - and no one from the MoD.

When Sir Kevin Tebbit, the permanent secretary at the department, arrived at 2.30pm, Mr Blair told him the meeting was finished and he would be briefed as to what had been decided by Mr Powell.

Downing Street escaped any criticism from Lord Hutton. However, he said "once the decision was taken on 8 July to issue the statement, the MoD was at fault and is to be criticised for not informing Dr Kelly that its press office would confirm his name if a journalist suggested it...

"It must have been a great shock and very upsetting for him to have been told, in a brief telephone call from his line manager, Dr [Bryan] Wells, on the evening of 9 July that the press office of his own department had confirmed his name to the press and must have given rise to a feeling that he had been badly let down by his employer. I further consider that the MoD was at fault in not having set up a procedure whereby Dr Kelly would be informed immediately his name had been confirmed to the press, and in permitting a period of one and half hours to elapse between the confirmation of his name ... and information [of that] being given to Dr Kelly. "

But Lord Hutton said that individual members of the MoD staff had attempted to help Dr Kelly. Kate Wilson, the chief press officer, warned him that his name might become public, and asked whether he wanted any help.

Similarly Dr Wells, his immediate superior, "liked and admired Dr Kelly and tried to help and support him".

The law lord stressed that there were "mitigating circumstances" for the MoD. He said: "Because of his intensely private nature, Dr Kelly was not an easy man to help or to whom to give advice." He added that Dr Kelly's "exposure to press attention and intrusion, while obviously very stressful, was only one of the factors placing Dr Kelly under great stress".

One of the main factors, said Lord Hutton, was his realisation that he would be exposed as the source of another report about weapons of mass destruction by Susan Watts, the science editor of the BBC programme Newsnight, contrary to what he had told the foreign affairs select committee.

Lord Hutton said: "I think it probable that one of the concerns which must have been weighing heavily on Dr Kelly's mind during the last few days of his life was the knowledge that there appeared to be in existence, known to members of the FAC, a full note of his conversation with Ms Susan Watts

"He must also have been worried that it would emerge and would become known to the MoD that he had a lengthy discussion with Ms Watts about intelligence matters.

"Whatever pressures and strains Dr Kelly was subjected to by the decisions and actions taken before his death, I am satisfied that no one realised or should have realised that those pressures and strains might drive him to take his own life ... He increasingly withdrew into himself and that's extremely important."

The inquiry heard that Sir Kevin had recommended that Dr Kelly should appear before an inquiry into the Iraq war by the Commons intelligence and security committee, sitting in private, rather than the foreign affairs committee, which holds televised hearings. Mr Hoon overruled this as being "presentationally" difficult.

Lord Hutton said in his report that this was part of the Government's strategy of openness. They would have been accused of a cover-up had they failed to produce Dr Kelly before the committee.

Extracts from the diaries of Alastair Campbell claimed that "GH" [Geoff Hoon] had wanted to "out" Dr Kelly. This allegation has been denied by Mr Hoon.

Lord Hutton's view boiled down to this: "The decision by the Ministry of Defence to confirm Dr Kelly's name was not part of a covert strategy to leak his name, but it was based on the view that it would not be sensible to try to conceal the name." In effect, this meant that Mr Hoon and the MoD were in the clear.