Thatcher to take centre-stage: Former Prime Minister to appear at Scott inquiry. David Connett reports

IN AN unprecedented piece of political theatre, Baroness Thatcher will tomorrow answer accusations that she and her ministers encouraged British businessmen to sell arms and defence-related equipment to Iraq in breach of official guidelines.

The woman who dominated the nation for more than a decade will face questions at the Scott inquiry about her knowledge of British efforts to arm Saddam Hussein's forces.

It will be the first time a former prime minister has given evidence publicly to a formal inquiry.

Although important aspects of the inquiry - the prosecution of three Matrix Churchill company directors and ministerial efforts to withhold vital defence evidence - occurred after she was driven from office, she still faces questions about British policy towards Iraq in several key areas.

The inquiry team's chief objective will be to establish precisely what Lady Thatcher knew.

She has completed a 76- page questionnaire sent to her, but indicated to Lord Justice Scott she would like to deal with other 'more detailed matters orally'. Questioning is likely to focus on the creation and operation of government guidelines in 1984 limiting defence sales to Iran and Iraq and attempts to amend them. Documents reveal Lady Thatcher asked to be kept informed. In September 1988, her private secretary wrote: 'The Prime Minister will wish to be kept very closely in touch at every stage and consulted on all relevant decisions.' Despite this, some ministers were reluctant to bother her. William Waldegrave, minister for open government, claimed he did not tell her of an important relaxation of the guidelines because 'it was so insignificant it would have been a waste of her time'.

Other questions will probe her knowledge of Jordan's role in diverting arms and equipment to Baghdad, the use of government cash to support exports, and the sale of the Hawk aircraft to Iraq. She will also be asked about repeated warnings from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ that exports were for Iraqi munitions, which were missed, disregarded or ignored. Mark Gutteridge, a former Matrix Churchill executive who worked for MI5, claims his handler told him intelligence he provided was seen by her. Frank Machon, a Glasgow haulage contractor who worked for the MoD, also claims he warned Downing Street in December 1988 that British military supplies to Saudi Arabia were really destined for Baghdad.

Other witnesses told how she received quarterly reports on UK arms sales and welcomed regular bulletins from a secret Whitehall committee monitoring Iraq's attempts to develop a nuclear weapons programme.

One intriguing aspect on which she will face questions is her involvement in Matrix Churchill machine-tool exports. Evidence from Alan Barrett, an official in the Defence Export Services Secretariat, suggested it was considerable.

Mr Barrett, who monitored exports to Iraq, told Lord Trefgarne, the former minister for defence procurement, that Lady Thatcher approved exports by Matrix Churchill, the Coventry-based company, in 'order to protect intelligence sources'.

It was the collapse of the trial of three executives from the firm last year that prompted the inquiry.

'This case needs to go back to the Prime Minister before we could recommend approving the current applications,' he wrote. When questioned about the origin of the information, Mr Barrett initially thought he had made a mistake. When pressed, he said he would not have implicated her 'without good reason'. While unable to remember who told him, he said: 'I certainly would not have made it up.'

Neither Lord Trefgarne nor other officials to whom the document was copied, queried Lady Thatcher's involvement.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power