The Sketch: This is quibbling of the very highest quality

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The Independent Online

The most obvious untruth in all this is the Ministry of Defence saying it had to tell the truth. It had to confirm Dr Kelly's name because anything else would have been "evasive", "misleading" or (my favourite) "intellectually dishonest".

If its staff are telling the truth they should all be fired. But they won't be fired; they'll be there for years. Possibly thousands of years. These people have the tenacity of cockroaches.

And so they say: I didn't know about it. I wasn't at that meeting. I went on leave. I was only involved in earlier drafts. I wasn't in the office. It wasn't me. We didn't give clues to Dr Kelly's identity. We didn't publish Dr Kelly's name, we merely responded to journalists' inquiries. We couldn't publish his name because his name was inevitably going to come out.

This is quibbling of the very highest quality. And if Parliament were conducting this inquiry that's where the matter would rest: politicians can't resist this world-class weasling. No, Lord Hutton has held the Government to account in a way that must astound and appal them. Who suggested Lord Hutton? Was it Charlie Falconer? The debt of gratitude the country owes our chubby Lord Chancellor is incalculable.

The Prime Minister might express his gratitude in a special way because cross-examination has taken the inquiry to a whole new level. We were reminded that Mr Blair told the Commons that any reports of disquiet in the intelligence service were "completely and totally untrue". Now we know an intelligence expert was trying to get his dissenting evidence officially noted, without success. The department was suppressing his name as busily as it was promoting Dr Kelly's. Why? Because it wanted Dr Kelly in the open to discredit the BBC. The staff could have refused to confirm or deny any name and bundled Dr Kelly off to Iraq (where he wanted to go anyway).

An MoD press officer, Catherine Wilson, came up with a line a little too daring for the circumstances. Remember the information that Dr Kelly (a Grade 9 civil servant - one of only a dozen in his part of the Civil Service) was to be described as a "middle-ranking civil servant"? Critics felt this diminished his status and reduced the weight of his opinion. Quite the contrary. She recommended journalists be "steered" to the term "middle-ranking" so that they wouldn't think he was a junior civil servant. According to this woman's account, the department couldn't name Dr Kelly in a straightforward way because it wanted to protect him. It wanted to draw the media's fire. It didn't want Dr Kelly to be bothered by press intrusion. It wanted to be able to get a press officer to his house to counsel him before the media got to him. So the department waited two hours to tell him his name was in the open, and he only found out because he rang in the end. "I was about to telephone him when he telephoned me," she said in a small, shrinking, cross-examined voice.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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