Waldegrave 'not told of Iraqi exports': Minister given contradictory intelligence, Scott inquiry told. David Connett reports

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The Independent Online
INTELLIGENCE about British involvement in Iraq's military build- up was not given to William Waldegrave, then a Foreign Office minister, before a crucial meeting, the Scott inquiry was told yesterday.

Detailed information warning that machine tools supplied by a British company were destined for an Iraqi factory making rocket and bomb fuses in clear breach of government guidelines was not given to Mr Waldegrave.

Instead he received contradictory information that MI6 was 'inclined to believe' Iraqi claims that the machine tools were for civil purposes and the arguments for banning or permitting them were 'finely balanced'.

The omission led to the exports being approved. Three executives from the Matrix Churchill machine tool company later stood trial accused of breaches of export regulations but were cleared after it was revealed the Government was aware of their activities.

A senior civil servant involved in briefing the minister could not explain to the inquiry why the intelligence was left out.

Stephen Lamport, assistant head of the Foreign Office's Middle East department in 1988, told Lord Justice Scott: 'I cannot answer why it wasn't put in. I simply don't know.'

One reason, he surmised, might have been because Mr Waldegrave already knew. 'Ministers were not coming to it cold. It was discussed orally. A lot of conversations were going on at the time.' But he admitted that he did not discuss it with the minister.

It was revealed the briefing was prepared by Simon Sherrington, an official who arrived in the department less than two months earlier. Mr Sherrington told the inquiry he was not shown earlier intelligence because he did not have security clearance. When this was approved a month later the reports had gone. He said the contradictory intelligence contained in the briefing came from a telephone conversation with someone from MI6. Both Mr Sherrington and the MI6 officer will give evidence at a later date.

He prepared the briefing in October 1989, the day before a meeting between Mr Waldegrave and Alan Clark and Lord Trefgarne, the defence and trade ministers, about Matrix Churchill's export applications. Lord Justice Scott said the omission meant Mr Waldegrave was 'sent into battle with a bow and arrow when he should have had a Kalashnikov'. Mr Lamport said the main thrust of the arguments when ministers met at the House of Commons was about whether the guidelines should remain, not about the specific export applications.

The Foreign Office was 'convinced the guidelines were right, other departments were not' he said. It came under increasing pressure to relax or abandon them.

Mr Lamport said he could not explain why, when it was confirmed that Matrix Churchill was breaching the guidelines after export approval was given, the Foreign Office still did nothing.