Scott report delay is cause for concern, Labour says

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The Independent Online
THE Labour Party yesterday said it was concerned that Lord Justice Scott's report into the sale of defence equipment to Iraq has been delayed until early next year.

'The delay is worrying,' said Michael Meacher, the Labour spokesman for open government, 'especially since the judge does not seem to be opening up any new fronts. He is simply tying up loose ends.'

Mr Meacher has been pressing for the inquiry to be widened to look at exports to Iraq over the whole of the Eighties as well as since the end of the Gulf war.

He has also called on the judge to interview people in the City who helped broker some of the deals.

The inquiry team, which has taken evidence from a wide range of soures, including businessmen, said the delay in publishing the report is due to the need to gather more evidence.

Lord Justice Scott has also decided to take another look at the security service's role in the affair and has summoned two more witnesses from the Secret Intelligence Service or MI6.

One witness to the inquiry said Lord Justice Scott may have decided to call the additional witnesses because he was not satisfied that he had all the facts of the Service's involvement.

The team denies that there has been any obstruction from Whitehall departments.

More than 30 witnesses, including civil servants, have been asked to provide further written evidence.

Sources close to the inquiry suggest that the judge is now aiming for publication next February. He had been expected to release the report in November this year.

There are fears that the report could be further delayed by the judge giving the right of reply to people he criticises in the report.

'The judge hopes to have completed the draft by the end of the year and he will then give witnesses whom he proposes to criticise an opportunity to comment before the report is finalised,' said Christopher Muttukumaru, secretary to the inquiry.

Lord Justice Scott is believed to be determined to publish the report when Parliament is in session. He has been advised that to do otherwise would prompt criticism that he had favoured the Government by bringing the report out when there were few people to debate it.

Lord Justice Scott was asked to conduct an inquiry into the arms to Iraq affair in November 1992 after the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial.

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