Was Kelly sacrificed to justify the dodgy case for war?

Mr Blair might escape responsibility for the arms inspector's death, but he will pay a price for that dossier, says Andy McSmith
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Indy Politics

From the day David Kelly died, Tony Blair could tell from the reactions of journalists accompanying him on a tour of East Asia that his name was going to be dragged into the affair one way or another. He ordered the Hutton inquiry in the hope that it would end some of the wilder accusations - including that the scientist was the victim of a government conspiracy to hide the truth behind the Iraq war.

He can expect a partial success. Lord Hutton is unlikely to imply that Mr Blair has lied or was responsible for Dr Kelly's death. But Downing Street is open to criticism over the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that was presented to Parliament in September 2002.

On 5 September, a committee chaired by Alastair Campbell, then Mr Blair's director of communications, saw a draft of that document and decided it needed a "substantial" rewrite. Twelve days later, Mr Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, said the document "does not demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam". He was particularly bothered by a phrase suggesting that Saddam Hussein would use these weapons only if attacked. Mr Campbell and Mr Blair also did not like the wording of the sections on nuclear weapons.

But when the dossier was published, on 24 September, Mr Blair claimed that it had been "established beyond doubt" that Saddam was continuing to produce weapons of mass destruction (an idea described as no more than a probability in the earlier draft) and was trying to produce nuclear weapons. These weapons had been named as a potential threat in the previous version of the document. Now the threat was said to be "serious and current".

Mr Campbell told the inquiry that the changes he and his colleagues wanted were only "presentational". But Lord Hutton will have considered another explanation: that Downing Street staff were putting pressure on the intelligence services to alter the September dossier to strengthen the political case for going to war. If he concludes that this is true, it will be a victory for Andrew Gilligan, the defence correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and an embarrassment for Mr Blair.

Mr Gilligan reported on 29 May last year that Downing Street had ignored the objections of the intelligence community to insert a claim into the dossier that Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes. His first report that morning suggested that this "sexing up" had been done in the knowledge that the claim was false.

In the subsequent outcry, Mr Gilligan refused to reveal his source, who was Dr Kelly. Lord Hutton has had to assess whether Mr Blair or any of his staff were implicated in trying to leak Dr Kelly's identity to the press or to blacken his reputation. There is the evidence of Mr Campbell's diary, in which he emphasises the importance of having Dr Kelly's name out in the open. In one extract, Mr Campbell muses that because Dr Kelly was denying authorship of much of what Mr Gilligan had attributed to his unnamed source, it would "fuck Gilligan" if it emerged that Dr Kelly was the source.

There was a meeting in Downing Street, with Mr Blair present, at which officials discussed the fact that Dr Kelly had come forward and identified himself as a possible source of Mr Gilligan's reports.

The most obvious evidence that Downing Street wanted to belittle Dr Kelly came when his near namesake, Tom Kelly, Mr Blair's official spokesman, described the scientist as a "Walter Mitty" character - a slur for which the press officer later apologised.

The comment was made after the death of Dr Kelly, so could not have contributed to his suicide, but it is clear from the evidence heard at the public inquiry that in the last days of his life the scientist certainly feared for his reputation. A key question before Lord Hutton has been how much the activities of people within No 10 contributed to that state of mind.

In the frame

Tony Blair, Prime Minister

Was he party to the process which the Government must have known would lead to David Kelly's name being made public? According to Sir Kevin Tebbit, Mr Blair chaired meetings at which policy over Dr Kelly was decided. Speaking to journalists just after his death, Mr Blair emphatically denied playing any part, a line he softened when giving testimony to Hutton. Without being drawn on specifics, he said that as Prime Minister he took "full responsibility" for what he insisted were right decisions. Will Lord Hutton goes so far as to say that Mr Blair lied over the naming of Dr Kelly? Nothing else in his report would be as sensational, and there would undoubtedly be calls for Mr Blair's resignation.

Alastair Campbell, Former director of communications

Supervised the production of government dossiers on Iraq, so if there was political interference in the use of intelligence data for the dossiers, he was responsible. A long-time thorn in the side of the BBC, he led the government onslaught on the corporation for its report on the "sexing-up" of the dossier, demanding apologies and giving a robust defence of the case for war. Could not, however, claim victory, and the Campbell era of spin-doctoring came to an end with his resignation later in the summer. That was supposed to end, too, the politicisation of the role of the No 10 communication chief. An already controversial reputation could face further blows.

Tom Kelly, Prime Minister's official spokesman

Only two days before David Kelly's funeral, Tom Kelly caused an outrage when he suggested that the weapons expert was a "Walter Mitty" character, a reference to the James Thurber creation who daydreamed that he was the hero of wildly daring escapades. The timing of Tom Kelly's remark, made to The Independent's Deputy Political Editor Paul Waugh, was disastrous. The Government was accused of indulging in a smear campaign, even though Mr Kelly claimed he was speaking privately. It seemed to be yet another example of a government in "spin" mode. But the storm blew over and Tom Kelly's expected dismissal did not happen.

Jonathan Powell, Chief of staff at No 10 Downing Street

Made a key intervention a week before the September dossier was published when he emailed serious concerns about it to John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. "The document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam," Mr Powell wrote. In the finished dossier, an imminent threat was spelt out. Mr Powell was also involved in the discussions on how to deal with David Kelly.


Sir Bernard Ingham, Chief press secretary to Margaret Thatcher

Hutton ought to have fatal consequences in the light of all we know - fatal for Blair, for Campbell, for Scarlett and for Powell. The Downing Street operation was absolutely typical of the spin practised by this government. Everything is subjugated to the short-term political advantage.

Charlie Whelan, Former spin-doctor for Gordon Brown

I don't believe for a minute that a judge will end the career of the Prime Minister. I think most people have already made up their minds, and they find it all a bit unsavoury. Blair is never going to reclaim the credibility he once had, but that's due more to the war than to Kelly.