Leaked Hutton report 'clears' Blair

Key points

• Report leaked to The Sun clears Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon and Alistair Campbell

BBC and its reporter Andrew Gilligan are both criticised

• Dr David Kelly criticised for being too candid with Gilligan

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• Report's leak will damage Blair's credibility; Downing St denies responsibility

Key quote: "The government’s fingerprints are all over the leaking of this document." Dr Liam Fox, Conservative Party co-chariman.

Story in full: THE findings of Lord Hutton's report into the death of Dr David Kelly were last night leaked to the Sun newspaper in an astonishing lapse of confidentiality which left Downing Street reeling.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s former communications chief, have all been "cleared" by Lord Hutton, according to the newspaper, which said it was telephoned and read salient sections.

Downing Street emphatically denied it had any hand in the leak, which appeared only hours after a Labour rebellion over university top-up fees which dealt a crushing blow to the Prime Minister’s authority.

The Hutton report was yesterday delivered to a handful of named recipients - fewer than a dozen in Downing Street - who all signed a confidentiality clause promising not to break the strict embargo.

However, the Sun newspaper today claims it received "the phone call every journalist in Westminster was waiting for" and was informed that ministers and No10 aides were cleared - but the BBC lambasted.

Quoting Lord Hutton’s conclusions, the newspaper says that Mr Blair and Mr Hoon acted properly when deciding to have Dr Kelly named as the mole behind the BBC story that No10 exaggerated the case for war in its Iraq dossier.

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"There was no dishonourable, underhand or duplicitous strategy" by the government to leak Dr Kelly’s name, Lord Hutton is quoted as saying. "The decision by the MoD to confirm Dr Kelly’s name was not part of a covert strategy to leak his name, but was based on the view that it would not be sensible to try to conceal the name."

However, Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter behind the story, is criticised for his original report suggesting that the government "probably knew" that it was incorrect to say that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could be launched within 45 minutes.

Dr Kelly, Lord Hutton is expected to say, did not make any such allegation to Mr Gilligan, and it was wrong of the BBC reporter to suggest otherwise in his series of reports on the BBC Today programme. "In light of uncertainties arising from Mr Gilligan’s evidence, and the existence of two versions of his notes, it is not possible to reach a definite conclusion of what Dr Kelly said," Lord Hutton is quoted by the newspaper as saying.

"But I am satisfied Dr Kelly did not say the government probably knew or suspected the 45-minute claim was wrong before the claim was inserted in the dossier."

Mr Gilligan’s original report saying the government knew the claim was "wrong or questionable was unfounded", and Lord Hutton goes on to lambast the BBC’s system of policing its own reporters, according to the Sun.

"I consider the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective" - going on to say that the BBC is "at fault" for failing to investigate Mr Gilligan.

Mr Campbell is cleared of any charge that he wrongly influenced the production of the Iraq dossier released in September 2001.

Although No10 said the dossier would be "spin-free" and the work of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), e-mails released to the Hutton Inquiry showed Mr Campbell and other No10 aides making suggestions on how to harden up certain passages.

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But the messages they sent to John Scarlett, the JIC chairman, were not deemed inappropriate. "I do not consider it improper for Mr Scarlett and the JIC to take into account suggestions made by No10 and adopt those suggestions, if they were consistent with the intelligence," says Lord Hutton, according to the Sun report.

Dr Kelly, who was found dead in woods near his home soon after his name became public, is said to be criticised in the report for being so candid with Mr Gilligan.

"His meeting [with Mr Gilligan] was unauthorised and, in discussing intelligence matters with him, Dr Kelly was acting in breach of civil-service code procedure," the report says.

The leaked report, although favourable to Mr Blair, will represent a devastating blow against his credibility - and raises the prospect that one of his aides would brief the Sun.

Liam Fox, the co-chairman of the Conservative Party, said: "The government’s fingerprints are all over the leaking of this document. It is a despicable act from a morally bankrupt government."

Downing Street immediately rejected the claims.

"We categorically deny that anyone who was authorised by government to see this document has either shown it to, or spoken about it to, anyone else," a spokesman said.