Witnesses persistently questioned

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The Independent Online
ALAN CLARK'S claim yesterday that it was 'very unjust' people could 'stroll into' the Scott inquiry and 'make accusations which the court or tribunal simply doesn't test at all', will not endear him to Lord Justice Scott, writes David Connett.

'There is no end to this. You can get people going along and saying anything to improve their own position or paddle their own canoe,' Mr Clark said with a characteristic flourish on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

Mr Clark, former Defence minister and a key player in the export of defence equipment to Iraq and the subsequent failure of the Matrix Churchill prosecution, has still to be invited to give evidence to the inquiry. When he does, there is little doubt Presiley Baxendale QC, counsel for the inquiry, will impress on him the error of his claim yesterday.

Miss Baxendale, 41, leads the questioning of witnesses at the inquiry. While her style is often informal, it lacks nothing in persistence and attention to detail.

If any evidence remains unclear after her questioning, the hawkish Lord Justice Scott at her elbow quickly moves in to dispel any confusion. His sharp interventions to answers in civil service jargon make witnesses quickly jump to.

With them are two other lawyers led by Christopher Muttukumaru, a Treasury solicitor and secretary to the inquiry.

The questioning is carried out on the basis of answers submitted by the witnesses to a list of written prior questions and any further statement made by them.

Witnesses are permitted to have ministry legal representatives at their sides and many civil servants have done so. Neither Sir Hal Miller nor Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Glazebrook, two of the most controversial witnesses so far, had need of legal advice when giving evidence.

Evidence is not given on oath as Lord Justice Scott does not believe it is a deterrent to witnesses determined to lie.

Sources close to the inquiry say that many of the answers to questions are already known by the team, who have read thousands of documents requested from the ministries involved in approving defence exports to Iran and Iraq.