Tory MP denounces Howells's lead role in rendition inquiry

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A former minister hand-picked by Gordon Brown to lead an intelligence watchdog should not lead an inquiry into Britain's involvement in transporting terrorist suspects for interrogation and torture abroad, a senior Tory claimed last night.

Andrew Tyrie said that recent statements from Kim Howells, the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, on "extraordinary rendition" and his background as a former Foreign Office minister, called into question his suitability to lead the inquiry.

In a remarkable broadside against Mr Howells, Mr Tyrie suggested the ISC chief and Labour MP had "prejudiced" public confidence in his inquiry. He called on him to abandon it and back demands for a judicial inquiry into rendition instead.

Mr Tyrie, MP for Chichester, claimed growing evidence that the UK authorities were aware of the US practice, and even allowed US rendition flights to use UK territory, meant a judge-led inquiry was necessary "to restore public confidence".

Mr Tyrie, a long-term campaigner for the truth about rendition, said in a letter to Mr Howells: "An essential task of the ISC is to buttress public confidence in the intelligence services and their accountability to the elected government of the day, and to Parliament. I am concerned that a recent interview you gave may have inadvertently prejudiced that confidence.

"You said that you were 'confident' that your committee knows what is going on in regard to rendition. You also said, 'We've never been denied any evidence from any of the agencies...'. It is now a matter of public record that your committee did not know what was going on."

The intervention increases the pressure on Gordon Brown to come clean over Britain's complicity in the alleged mistreatment of a number of suspected terrorists. Campaigners claim a series of revelations have undermined official denials that Britain systematically helped to facilitate the sending of suspects for US interrogation to countries where torture is not illegal.

Mr Tyrie told Mr Howells: "A series of assurances, given by you when a minister and other ministerial colleagues, and by the Intelligence and Security Committee, have turned out to be unfounded and flawed. Several High Court judgments have also undermined the credibility of assurances. This is why, in order to restore public confidence,... a judge-led inquiry is now widely considered to be essential."

Mr Tyrie, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, said a cross-party group of MPs, including Lord Carlile, the Government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, and opposition leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg, now supported a full inquiry into the issue.

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