Trust undermined by WMD failure - Clarke

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Indy Politics

The former home secretary Charles Clarke admitted yesterday that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has undermined public confidence in Britain's intelligence services.

Public doubts about the reliability of the intelligence services had been reinforced by the raid by hundreds of police at Forest Gate and the shooting of a Muslim after a tip-off, said Mr Clarke, who was one of the most loyal supporters of Mr Blair on the war.

His remarks put renewed pressure on Tony Blair over his "war on terror" as he prepares to mark the first anniversary of the July 7 bombings on Friday.

Mr Clarke, who was sacked in the last cabinet reshuffle, warned the lack of public trust in the intelligence service over the WMD needed to be repaired urgently.

"The experience with suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq undermined confidence in the capacity of our intelligence services to make accurate assessments of the risks that we face," he said.

"The recent events at Forest Gate reinforced that and there remain allegations that more information was held on those who became the July 7 bombers than has been revealed."

Defending the intelligence services, Mr Clarke said: "On the basis of my own knowledge and understanding of intelligence issues, I am convinced there is absolutely no foundation to the allegation that our intelligence services or police had information about the July 7 bombers and did not follow it up professionally."

However, there are also suspicions of political interference in the operation of the intelligence services. Whitehall sources claim there is a dispute between MI5 and the police over whether it was wise to carry out the Forest Gate raid without more evidence. There have been claims that the decision went all the way up to the chairman of the recently-appointed Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir Richard Mottram.

The Prime Minister's intelligence and security committee is secretly investigating these claims. Suspicions still remain that the threat from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was exaggerated on the orders of Downing Street, in spite of the Hutton report, which cleared the Government of the charge.

Conservative sources are keen to avoid being accused of making the July 7 anniversary a party political issue, but last night leading Tories renewed their call for an independent inquiry. Patrick Mercer, the Tory spokesman on homeland security said: "With a former home secretary coming out in this way, the Government cannot continue to resist the growing pressure to lance this boil."

Mr Clarke, writing in the London Evening Standard, delivered a withering attack on the judiciary. The former minister, who lost a court battle over his attempt to hold suspects in effect under house arrest, accused senior judges of interpreting the Human Rights Act in a way that caused "deep concern to the security of our society, but without any responsibility for that security".

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