Death of David Kelly: The Hutton Inquiry - the Conclusions

By Whitaker, Raymond | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), September 28, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Death of David Kelly: The Hutton Inquiry - the Conclusions

Whitaker, Raymond, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)

Over the summer, some of the country's most powerful figures and finest legal minds converged on the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the inquiry into the death of the weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. The evidence took us behind the scenes in Downing Street, Whitehall and the BBC. We learned how the Government's September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was put together, and what happened after Dr Kelly told the BBC's Andrew Gilligan it had been "sexed up" by Alastair Campbell...

Three of the country's most expensive QCs were chatting in an empty Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London as they waited for the Hutton inquiry to resume after a lunch break.

"This is the most unusual case I've ever been involved in," said one. "It's the closest I'm ever likely to get to the inquisitorial system," said another. But a resem- blance to Continental judicial methods, which allow judges to explore the issues rather than choosing between two adversaries, was not the only way in which the inquiry was out of the ordinary.

Established to examine the circumstances surrounding the death of the scientist Dr David Kelly, it has ranged much wider during 23 days of hearings, in which evidence has been taken from more than 70 witnesses, and 787 documents have been handed over. Every word uttered and thousands of pages of documentary evidence were posted on the internet; for the first time in any British judicial proceedings, the public was able to see the raw material of recent history. The emails, draft documents and hand-written notes have given us a unique insight into the daily workings of Downing Street, Whitehall, the BBC and, to a limited extent, the intelligence world.

Lord Hutton said on Thursday that he hopes to report in December, perhaps November. But many will already have drawn their conclusions about the events triggered by the interview Dr Kelly gave to the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan on 22 May, and the background against which they were meeting: the Government's campaign to justify war in Iraq, and the failure afterwards to find the weapons of mass destruction on which it had built its case.

The dossier: why was it so wrong?

Whether intelligence assessments of the threat from Iraq were right or wrong "is not the issue now before us", Jonathan Sumption, the Government's QC, told the inquiry. It does matter, however, for the credibility of the Government and its intelligence advisers.

The issue Lord Hutton has to decide is whether the dossier was "sexed up" at the behest of Downing Street, as Mr Gilligan reported his source as saying. Dr Kelly said the "classic example" was the claim that Iraq had WMD ready for use in 45 minutes, though the BBC has admitted that he did not say Downing Street had inserted it into the dossier over the objections of the intelligence services.

The inquiry - unlike the Foreign Affairs Committee - saw drafts of the dossier that showed the language of the claim had indeed changed, though the most important alteration was made by John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The intelligence spoke of chemical and biological "munitions"; Mr Scarlett used the word "weapons". When the press took that to mean strategic rather than battlefield weapons, neither he nor Alastair Campbell, then Downing Street's director of communications, nor Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, saw fit to correct the impression.

The evidence also showed that Mr Campbell suggested a smaller change to the 45-minute section that strengthened the language: purely within his remit to advise on presentation, he and Mr Scarlett insisted. Although they exchanged memos on the proposed alterations, they later told the Foreign Affairs Committee that their recollection did not include any discussion of the 45-minute point.

More damaging was the revelation that Mr Scarlett had changed the document at the last minute, after the deadline for intelligence agencies to voice objections, in response to an email from Downing Street's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.

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