Bahai News -- The Financial Times - Blair to give evidence at Kelly inquiry

Friday Aug 1 2003. All times are London time.

Blair to give evidence at Kelly inquiry

By Jean Eaglesham and Bob SherwoodPublished: August 1 2003 16:12 | Last Updated: August 1 2003 16:12

Tony Blair, his head of communications Alastair Campbell and UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon will be called to give evidence on the government's treatment of David Kelly, the weapons expert who apparently committed suicide over the Iraq dossier row.

Lord Hutton, the judge leading the inquiry into Mr Kelly's death, said on Friday the three men would face cross-examination if the inquiry found evidence that left them open to criticism.

The unexpected decision means the inquiry - which began as Mr Blair flew off on holiday on Friday - could stretch well into the autumn, casting a shadow over this year's political party conferences.

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Setting out the scope and aims of his inquiry, Lord Hutton made it clear that he intends to conduct a searching examination of the conduct of both the government and the BBC in the weeks leading up to Mr Kelly's death.

Confidential e-mails, memos and phone calls between Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence will be published by the inquiry, Lord Hutton said. Discussions between ministers and officials in the MoD and "other departments of government" - thought to include the Foreign Office as well as Number 10 - will be exposed to public scrutiny.

Mr Blair and Mr Hoon will have to give "evidence of their knowledge of the discussions which took place and the decisions which were taken" in relation to Mr Kelly.

The inquiry will examine Mr Kelly's conversations with BBC journalists, which led to the claim by Andrew Gilligan, a reporter on Radio Four's Today programme, that Mr Campbell had "sexed up" an intelligence dossier on Iraq.

Lord Hutton will also examine the conduct of the government after Mr Kelly volunteered to his MoD bosses that he might be the BBC source. The inquiry will look at the MoD media strategy that led to Mr Kelly being named by three newspapers, including the FT.

Anyone whose "decisions and conduct" based on the evidence garnered in the first phase of the inquiry "might subject them to criticism" will then be subject to cross-examination, the judge said.

Lord Hutton revealed Mr Kelly had written to his MoD line manager casting doubts on the veracity of Mr Gilligan's story by claiming the reporter had either had other sources or had "considerably embellished" what Mr Kelly had told him. The judge also revealed that Mr Kelly was suffering from a "significant degree of coronary artery disease" at the time of his apparent suicide. Four electrocardiogram electrode pads were found on his body.

The inquiry will take evidence from a psychiatrist on Mr Kelly's state of mind at the time of his death. Lord Hutton will also call a witness from the Baha'i faith to which Mr Kelly belonged.

Lord Hutton appeared to scotch speculation that his inquiry would turn into a wider investigation of the government's justification for the Iraq war. "I do not sit to decide between conflicting cases - I sit to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly's death," the judge said.

But Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the inquiry would nonetheless "allow a much better informed judgment of the efficacy upon which this war was conducted."

©Copyright 2003, The Financial Times (London, UK)

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