Whistleblower that ministers tried to muzzle

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Indy Politics

Carne Ross wrestled with his conscience for three more months after he secretly submitted evidence to the Butler committee into the use of pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Beset by long-standing private doubts about the Government's Iraq policy which he had implemented for four years in New York, he had previously drafted "about six" resignation letters in the past which he never sent.

But after emailing his testimony to the Butler committee from Kosovo where he was on secondment, Mr Ross realised that he had probably jeopardised his 15-year career. After agonising for another three months, he sent another email in September 2004, this time terminating his employment with the Foreign Office. He was 38.

Until then, he had been on the fast track to diplomatic glory, during a Foreign Office career which began in Bonn. In New York, where he worked from December 1997 to June 2002 as first secretary at the UK mission to the United Nations, he was responsible for Iraq policy.

It was a turbulent period, yet he still found time to take a playwriting course, which gave rise to his first play The Fox, performed in New York, in which a young peacekeeping officer is changed for ever after watching a massacre in a country bearing a striking resemblance to Bosnia.

After leaving the Foreign Office, Mr Ross established Independent Diplomat, which assists small, democratic countries with no experience in diplomacy to punch above their weight.

Mr Ross was back in the spotlight last month, following his revelation to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that he had testified to Butler, and that he was prepared to share the information. But he said: "I was advised by the lawyers of my union that I might be liable for prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if it was to become public."

Labour's Andrew Mackinley - a long-standing member of the awkward squad - did not agree. He insisted that if Mr Ross handed his own evidence over to a Commons committee, he would be protected from prosecution by parliamentary privilege.

But the committee chairman, Mike Gapes, a government loyalist, needed to think carefully before taking such a step. He tried to close the meeting with the matter undecided, but as it was breaking up, Mr Ross spoke again. "I have given it years of thought," he said. "This has been on my conscience for a very long time, and I was waiting for an opportunity under privilege to share my evidence to the Butler inquiry. I would be happy to share it with the committee."

The committee met again in closed session on 6 December. There are rumours that there was a fierce argument, but the outcome was a letter from the committee clerk to Mr Ross, asking for a copy of his evidence.

The next meeting, on Wednesday, was also held in secret, but again there were rumours of a ferocious argument. Whatever was said, the outcome was that in the morning, the evidence that had been kept secret for two-and-a-half years was available on the internet, at last.