Blair defiant over WMDs as aides face Hutton censure

By Kim Sengupta and Paul Waugh

26 January 2004 <

At least nine people - six associated with Tony Blair's government and three from the BBC - could be in the firing line when Lord Hutton delivers his much-anticipated report into the death of David Kelly on Wednesday.

The Independent has learnt late submissions were made by the nine to Lord Hutton in the closing stages of the inquiry, following letters from him saying they face possible criticism. The Prime Minister's name does not appear among those making final submissions, indicating he is unlikely to receive direct condemnation.

Mr Blair insisted yesterday he still believes that evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the justification given for going to war, will be discovered. But his position was undermined by Colin Powell, the United States' Secretary of State, who said that he did not know whether such an arsenal will ever be found. And Lewis Moonie, a defence minister at the time of the Iraq invasion, predicted that the Government may soon have to admit it was wrong about Saddam Hussein's alleged WMD capabilities.

Those who put forward late evidence to Lord Hutton include Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence; Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's former director of communications; John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, tasked with drawing up last September's Iraq weapons dossier; Richard Hatfield, the director of personnel at the Ministry of Defence; Pam Teare, the director of news at the MoD; and Kate Wilson, the MoD's chief press officer.

According to senior sources, Ms Wilson and Ms Teare are said to be facing "low-level criticism", if any, following evidence at the inquiry they were acting on instructions that originated in Downing Street.

From the BBC side, late submissions were made by Andrew Gilligan, the defence and diplomatic correspondent for Radio 4's Today programme who claimed that the Government had "sexed-up" the dossier; Richard Sambrook, the head of news; and Greg Dyke, the director general.

The Leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard, wrote yesterday to Lord Hutton asking the judge to provide a list of all unpublished submissions before the report is presented on Wednesday.

The Independent has also discovered that senior officials of the Defence Intelligence Staff told the Government before the war that they had "absolutely no idea" how many chemical or biological weapons Saddam possessed. A memo, written to the Cabinet Office's Joint Intelligence Assessment staff was sent to Lord Hutton after he had finished taking evidence and has not been posted on the inquiry website. A leaked copy of the memo shows the DIS wanted numerous changes to the dossier drawn up by JIC, and had to deal with direct questions from Downing Street.

One such question was: "Can we say how many chemical and biological weapons Iraq currently has by type? If we can't give weapons numbers, can we give any idea of the quantity of agent available?"

The DIS response, written by its assistant directors of intelligence, states: "CW [chemical weapons]: we have absolutely no idea how many chemical weapons or the quantity of agents that Iraq has. If pressed I would say 'could have tens of tonnes' BW [biological weapons]', this is almost an impossible question."

Among the numerous errors the DIS spotted in the first draft of the dossier was that mustard gas "can kill in minutes". The DIS pointed out that it would take days for the agent to cause serious damage.

An opinion poll for ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme found that 56 per cent of those questioned believe Mr Blair should resign if Lord Hutton finds that he, or his staff, have behaved improperly over the naming of Dr Kelly. And 33 per cent of voters believes the Government bears responsibility for the death of the scientist than 11 per cent who blame the BBC.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said it looked as though the British public had been "sold a pup" on the threat which Saddam posed. "What Lord Hutton, depending on how he interprets his remit, will not be able to do is to get into the fundamental issue," he said. "The fundamental issue is: Were we sold a pup? Was this country taken into that war in Iraq on a dodgy basis?"