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Paul Waugh: A very tricky area for the model of a modern mandarin

Bryan Wells' official title may well be Director of Counter-Proliferation and Arms Control for Her Majesty's Government. He may well have a postdoctorate in research science from Oxford. He may well have worked for the MoD for 15 years.

But yesterday, as he gave his evidence to the Hutton Inquiry, Mr Wells looked for all the world like Penfold, Dangermouse's bumbling sidekick. The resemblance with the cartoon superhero's assistant was uncanny. The gap in the front teeth, the piggy eyes blinking behind the spectacles, those hamster-like cheeks ... even the chirrupy laugh.

As his testimony unfolded, it became obvious Mr Wells was indeed Penfold to Dr David Kelly's Dangermouse. One was a superspy, tackling evil leaders. The other carried his bags and tried to stop him bumping into walls.

Of course, Mr Wells was, in theory, Dr Kelly's "line manager". But, in reality, it was clear he had little idea where his colleague was half the time, and to whom he was speaking. While Dr Kelly spoke to journalists with confidence and ease, Mr Wells busied himself back in his office at the MoD in Whitehall.

As soon as he took the witness box, he appeared the very model of a modern minor mandarin. From his pin-striped shirt to his Sir Humphreyish language, Mr Wells could only be a civil servant. He insisted right at the start that he had something important to tell the inquiry. As the ranks of lawyers poised themselves for his revelation, he said ... he wanted to point out that inquiry documents had spelled his name with an i and not a y.

James Dingemans QC, counsel to the inquiry, raised an eyebrow.

As his evidence went on, Mr Wells clearly wanted to do nothing to upset his bosses at the MoD, while trying to remain faithful to Dr Kelly. Unfortunately, he found it impossible and ultimately made plain he had been a witness to repeated stressful questioning of the scientist. Penfold, it turned out, had not been the trusty sidekick after all. It became clear Whitehall's management structure couldn't cope with Dr Kelly. Mr Wells was his line manager but someone else appraised his performance. The MoD worked with him but the Foreign Office paid him. Or as Mr Wells put it: "David Kelly had a range of contacts across Whitehall, within the MoD and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office." When asked about Dr Kelly's complaints that he was not being paid enough or recognised for his achievements, Mr Wells said he wasn't aware of it .

Throughout the grillings that Dr Kelly had at the hands of MoD personnel director Richard Hatfield, Mr Wells was simply the note-taker.

At several points in yesterday's questioning, Mr Wells repeated "I have no recollection of that". However, Whitehallspeak was not going to get in the way of Mr Dingemans.

The QC seized on a note written by Mr Wells of one interrogation. The words "tricky areas" was written, listing issues the Government felt uncomfortable with. Mr Wells at first said he had "no recollection" of the words. When it was pointed out a secretary had also written the words down, he maintained they may not have been said.

But when, Mr Dingemans found another written memo bearing the words, he was wonderfully caustic as only a QC can be. "As a betting man, I would guess that says 'tricky areas'..." he said.

Mr Wells had to admit defeat. "Ah, hah, er ... As I said earlier, to the best of my recollection, they weren't used. I believe now that was the case." A titter went round the court.