Reaction to the Hutton report

Intelligence chiefs' eagerness to please echoes Nazi bureaucrats

Sir: The evidence collected, and not Lord Hutton's politic conclusions, will attract the praise of generations of future historians.

The inquiry exposed a British state in which the civil servants, and in particular the intelligence services, were unhappily eager to respond to the will of the Executive. In Nazi Germany they had a phrase for such co-operative behaviour: "Working towards the Führer".

Downing Street did not have to dirty its hands with "sexing up" the September dossier itself. This was done freely by John Scarlett and the JIC, after a little discreet prompting by Jonathan Powell of the Prime Minister's Office, and more direct hints from Alastair Campbell, in e-mails of 17-20 October, 2002 (documents15-28, http://news1.thdo.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/uk/03/ hutton_inquiry/documents/pdf/appendix13.pdf ).

The JIC, which has a long and honourable record of independence, agreed to confuse service to the government of the day with its obligation of loyalty to the Crown and the public interest. Truths about the battlefield limits of possible 45-minute deployed weapons were suppressed, and falsehoods about uranium from Niger sustained.

Gilligan's report was, more on less, on the nail. On the evidence collected, it is Scarlett and Blair's intelligence services collaborators who should now be resigning, not the officers of the BBC.

Dr RICHARD DRAYTON
Fellow and Director of Studies in History
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Questions remain on pre-emptive war

Sir: It is entirely predictable, but remains completely astonishing, that Tony Blair's integrity and leadership have apparently been restored by the results of the Hutton inquiry, an "independent" prosecution the terms of which were set by the accused. Surprise, surprise - he didn't do what he knew we couldn't prove and we weren't allowed to ask questions about the rest.

Until WMDs are found, the sexiness or otherwise of Mr Blair's September dossier is a secondary issue. If there are no weapons then we were misled. The PM may not have known that the 45-minute assertion was definitely false, but this is missing the point. He should not have declared war unless he knew the veracity of such claims beyond reasonable doubt. The key investigation - which the Government has been mysteriously slow to pursue - is an inquiry into why our intelligence was so badly wrong, why the Government believed it and why we went to war with such haste before the evidence was properly analysed.

If we are to accept the Bush-Blair doctrine that pre-emptive military strikes are a legitimate form of defence (as they propose under a controversial reading of Article 50 of the UN Charter) then confidence in our intelligence services is vital, not only for Mr Blair's tarnished reputation but for all of our future foreign policy and defence calculations.

Senior BBC figures have resigned because they stood by a poorly researched story that indirectly led to the death of one man. It comes as a strange and bitter irony that no one in the Government feels remotely responsible for supporting poorly researched intelligence that led directly to the death of thousands.

You have not been exonerated, Mr Blair. The heat is very much still on.

DEREK SLOAN
Glasgow

Lessons for media

Sir: The Hutton report could certainly serve the purposes of malevolent forces in government and the media which want to soften up the public for the privatisation of the BBC, or at least its muzzling. The 2006 Charter and licence review will soon be upon us and the vultures are already circling.

We need a coalition of the great and good leading an organised movement of such size and influence that no government would dare harm the last bastion of independent broadcasting. I pray the leaders will soon step forward.

COLIN YARDLEY
Chislehurst, Kent

Sir: The journalists were shown to have lied, the politicians to have told the truth. Those of us who have had dealings with both are not entirely surprised.

The media in the UK have long tried to give the impression that all politicians lie, at all times. This has been very damaging to our democracy at both local and national level. Perhaps now is the time for the media to acknowledge that politicians are human beings, faced with difficult decisions, who are almost always trying to do what they believe is best for their constituents and the populace as a whole.

I cannot believe that if Hutton had condemned the Government you would be refusing to believe it in the way that you are in denial over his condemnation of the journalism.

Dr NICK EVANS
Department of Chemistry
Loughborough University

Sir: Lord Hutton's eminently reasonable-sounding principle of journalism - false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians, should not be made by the media - chills me to the bone. If acted upon, it would leave the BBC (or any part of the media) as a tame tool of the state. Give me the Paxman principle of journalism any day: "Why is this bastard lying to me?"

In a free society where Governments do everything in their considerable power to withhold or distort the truth, journalists (including Andrew Gilligan) have a duty, in my view, to go on getting the story wrong until some portion of the facts comes to light.

ROGER MOSS
Brighton

Sir: It is my recollection that Ben Bradlee, the then executive editor of the Washington Post, made it an inviolable rule that his reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, had to corroborate their "single" source with at least one, if not two, other separate sources before he would publish any story.

If the BBC had adopted that same prudent journalistic standard it might not be in the position it finds itself in today. Incidentally, the corollary may also be true that if Mr Bradlee had adopted the BBC's approach Richard Nixon might not have been forced to resign.

The irony is that both the BBC and Government in this matter relied too heavily on a single source and both have been proved wrong to do so.

JEREMY DAY
London N1

Sir: Whatever mistakes the BBC may have made, it is clear from the resignations of Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke that the Corporation has more honour and dignity than Blair's cronies now baying for its blood.

MICHAEL PARASKOS
Leeds

Sir: The message from Hutton is, check your sources. But why does this only apply to journalists writing reports, not to prime ministers starting wars?

Dr CHRIS WILLIAMS
Centre for International Education and Research
University of Birmingham

Shades of whitewash

Sir: You do Lord Hutton an injustice with your front page ("Whitewash?" - 29 January). I fully expect posterity will take a different view.

The terms of Lord Hutton's inquiry meant that he was not allowed to examine the veracity of the claims made in the Government's famous dossier. Within the inquiry terms that were presented to him, Lord Hutton may well have been correct to exonerate the Government and censure the BBC. However his report, presented in such apparently black and white terms, contrasts strongly with what has been revealed about the writing of the dossier. Would the "sexing up" of the information it presented have come to light without the publicity afforded by Lord Hutton's inquiry?

A whitewash? That is for your readers to decide, but let us not forget that it was Lord Hutton who caused to be made public the evidence by which we can reach a conclusion.

BOB BLAKEBOROUGH
Stamford, Lincolnshire

Sir: Nice front page ("Whitewash?" - 29 January.). Shame about the question mark.

TONY HARCUP
Senior Lecturer, Centre for Journalism, Trinity and All Saints,
Leeds

Pillar of the state

Sir: As the initial shockwaves from the publication of the Hutton report die down, one is led to contemplate on what an interesting appointment that of Lord Hutton was.

A known and trusted conservative who could be accused by no one of having a Labour bias yet who would be relied on, both philosophically and viscerally, to support and uphold established authority; and at the same time, as a staunch Ulsterman, not likely to be in love with the investigative arm of the BBC.

JENNIFER WARE
London SW5

Sir: Lord Hutton's role in Northern Ireland was to defend the state, in particular the Army and the judiciary, while sending down terrorists. So no surprise, then, that the ancient lord, his mindset firmly cemented in Northern Ireland, should balk (unconsciously?) at any suggestion of the politicisation of military intelligence, or manipulative skulduggery by the Ministry of Defence or - heaven forfend - Downing Street.

PETER BOA
Glasgow

Blair's vanity

Sir: The nastiest aspect of the Campbell-Blair vendetta against the BBC is not its bullying vindictiveness, nor the cynical opportunism of its timing, nor even its crowing triumphalism in ill-deserved victory. It is the overweening vanity of deliberately diverting the entire country's attention, for months on end, toward a supposed insult to Blair and Campbell's personal integrity, rather than toward examining the justification for a war in which tens of thousands have died (so far).

Blair misled Parliament and the country into war, for the sake of a complete and utter falsehood, as even the American chief weapons inspector now admits. Gilligan got everything essentially right, except that he (arguably) misled a minuscule radio audience over the issue of whether Blair took the precaution of honestly deceiving himself, with the aid of lamentably incompetent intelligence, before he deceived the rest of us.

Isn't it a monstrous vanity, to carry on as if an insult to your personal integrity matters more than a major war which you falsely - or at best naively - justified?

RICHARD DAWKINS
Oxford

Constitutional crisis

Sir: It was astute of Mr Blair and No 10 to select Lord Hutton to conduct the inquiry into the death of Dr Kelly. No doubt his report will be used by them to try to emasculate the BBC, just as their so-called reforms of the House of Lords, the Office of Lord Chancellor and the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords seek to vandalise the constitution for party-political ends. It will take a long time to rectify the damage Mr Blair has done and seeks to do to the good governance of the United Kingdom.

JOCK CRAVEN
Thatcham, Berkshire

Blair cleared of lying

Sir: Mr Blair has been completely vindicated by the Hutton report. He is not a liar. He has himself consistently maintained that he believed, and still believes, the uncorroborated and flimsy intelligence that came before him from our own intelligence service, and the information fed to him by Mr Bush from that of the USA, in spite of the reports of weapons inspectors in Iraq before and after the war. We must now accept Lord Hutton's findings and acknowledge that we are not being led by a manipulative liar but by a credulous fool.

G THOMAS
London SE22

The right judge

Sir: As an ex-con I regard Tony Blair with deep envy. If only I had had the chance to appoint the judge of my choice to try my case! But we should not take Hutton too seriously; judges know the law but often not the real world. I suffered three miscarriages of justice; twice I was found innocent when guilty, then finally found guilty when innocent! There is hope yet.

PIP YOUNGMAN
Taunton, Somerset

Campbell's triumph

Sir: Two features stand out. First, the brilliant orchestration by Alastair Campbell of a massive diversion from what should have been the main concern: was the war on Iraq justified? Second, if there is to be any inquiry involving the workings of the Government and establishment, is it wise to have it conducted by a member of the establishment? But if not a judge, who?

HARRY WILKINSON
Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Sense of priorities

Sir: On the orders of their respective governments, dozens of British soldiers have died fighting in Iraq, as have hundreds of American and thousands of Iraqi soldiers. There are thousands of civilian casualties. In Britain, millions of words have been written and we have spent millions of pounds on the inquiry into the death of one civil servant and our government's dispute with the BBC. It is a sad day for humanity.

MAYNARD HALL
Wigton,
Cumbria

Cling to the jury

Sir: Lord Hutton is the best argument yet against the abolition of the right to trial by jury.

NEIL JOPSON
Buckingham

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