Bahai News -- Guardian - Blair faces day of risk in court

Blair faces day of risk in court

Witness schedule Evidence next week from top of government, intelligence and BBC

Ewen MacAskill
Friday August 22, 2003
The Guardian

Tony Blair is scheduled to give evidence to Lord Hutton's inquiry next Thursday about the run-up to the war with Iraq and events leading to the death of the weapons scientist, Dr David Kelly.

It will be the most difficult and detailed questioning Mr Blair has yet faced over the war. Although he has given evidence to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC), that was a private session. This will be in public and he faces a much more forensic approach.

His appearance is high risk because there is a danger that Lord Hutton's eventual report could be critical of Downing Street.

Mr Blair's day in court was announced yesterday by Lord Hutton, who said his inquiry was now at the halfway stage. He said he expected to have completed testimony from all the witnesses by Wednesday September 3.

He intends to begin the second stage of the inquiry, in which he will hear from counsel as well as some witnesses who could be recalled to clarify earlier points, or new witnesses who may come forward. He said he hoped to have completed that stage by about Thursday September 25.

He said that after that it would take him "some time" to prepare his report.

Another awkward appearance for the government will be that of the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, who has taken much of the blame for the MoD media strategy that saw Dr Kelly's name being fed into the public domain. He will appear before the inquiry next Wednesday.

On the same day, evidence will be taken from two MoD officials who knew Dr Kelly well and from Ann Taylor, the head of the ISC, which took evidence from Mr Blair.

The inquiry, closed for this bank holiday weekend, is to resume on Tuesday, when evidence will be taken from one of the most senior figures in the intelligence community, Sir John Scarlett, head of the joint intelligence committee, who drew up most of the Iraq dossier on weapons of mass destruction published in Sep tember, and Sir David Omand, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office.

Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay, whose cross-examination of Dr Kelly during the Commons foreign affairs committee (FAC) hearing has been repeatedly shown on television, has also been called for that day.

Later in the week, on the same day as Mr Blair, the inquiry is scheduled to hear from Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC board of governors, and Tom Mangold, a journalist and friend of Dr Kelly.

On the following Monday, September 1, there will be testimony from Dr Kelly's family and other friends. Apart from a statement at the time of his death, the family have maintained its silence. Their testimony could provide insights into Dr Kelly's state of mind at the height of the con troversy after his appearance before the FAC.

The following day will be taken up by evidence from those involved in the search for Dr Kelly, the pathologist and Mick Page, assistant chief constable of Thames Valley police.

On the Wednesday of that week, evidence will be heard from a psychologist and a member of the Baha'i religion, to which Dr Kelly belonged.

©Copyright 2003, The Guardian (UK)

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