Trail uncovered leading from Hoon to Blair

IT TOOK just four days for the Hutton inquiry to find the smoking gun hidden underneath Geoff Hoon’s ministerial pillow. We are now in a different ballgame. The trail now leads to Cabinet - and to Tony Blair.

Dr David Kelly was forced to go in front of the camera and be monstered by the foreign affairs committee because Mr Hoon personally forced him to - using his powers as Defence Secretary to override the civil service.

And Mr Hoon is not a big enough player in the Blair government to have made such an important decision himself. He was acting on orders - and he answers only to the Prime Minister.

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The first week of the inquiry is now over. After laying waste to the BBC, Lord Hutton and James Dingemans, QC, his counsel, have only now started on the government.

They adjourn for the weekend with Mr Blair’s name now hanging over the inquiry. Dr Kelly was interviewed a second time because the Prime Minister considered it "sensible to try and go into a bit more detail into the differences between what Dr Kelly said and what Mr Gilligan had claimed".

There are two ways to translate this: both are dreadful news for Mr Blair. From the above comments, from Martin Howard, the deputy chief of defence intelligence for the Ministry of Defence, it seems the Prime Minister was indeed micromanaging the witchhunt which led to Dr Kelly.

But Mr Howard is a civil servant. They occupy their own world, speak in their own vocabulary. When he said "Prime Minister" he may well have meant Downing Street - or, more specifically, Alastair Campbell.

The inquiry is heading into the most sensitive situation. In lifting the lid on the government, it could well home in on Mr Campbell’s peculiar position - and whether he was telling Mr Hoon what to do.

The letter from Mr Hoon’s office shows that he was by no means convinced that Dr Kelly should be handed over. It details four lengthy bullet points explaining why he should reject the request - before agreeing.

"I understand No 10 would be content with this approach," it ends. Is this because this "approach" was requested by Mr Campbell, rather than Mr Blair personally?

No-one elected Mr Campbell. His power to direct Downing Street civil servants is controversial enough - but if he has been instructing Cabinet ministers in Mr Blair’s absence it could be portrayed as a coup d’tat.

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The inquiry has also told us that the decision to expose Dr Kelly was a political one - made against the express wishes of the civil service. So why should it be so important? Because his appearance was the centrepiece of the ingenious plot hatched by Mr Campbell to get Mr Blair out of trouble.

The trick was to stop Britain asking "where are these weapons?" and creating a diversion: a spectacular fight with the BBC which would change the question to "was the Today programme’s report correct?"

The strategy was to discredit Andrew Gilligan, the BBC journalist, by finding his source - and then have the source deny that he told Mr Gilligan anything like this.

By 30 June, these steps had been taken. Dr Kelly had confessed, and suggested in writing that Mr Gilligan "considerably embellished my meeting with him". But having this in an internal memo is not enough.

For No 10 to win its battle with Mr Gilligan, Dr Kelly had to disassociate himself from the BBC report in public. This meant going in front of the cameras at the foreign affairs committee.

This explanation is increasingly likely. The speed with which Lord Hutton is now moving suggests Mr Campbell may be called within days to say whether it is true.


1. Was Geoff Hoon acting on his own initiative before he rejected his civil servants’ advice not to hand over Dr David Kelly to the Foreign Affairs Committee for questioning? Or was he acting under orders?

2. Who was Mr Hoon talking to in No 10 during these crucial few days? Was he dealing with Tony Blair directly - or was Alastair Campbell giving orders in the Prime Minister’s place? Did Mr Campbell, at any point, instruct a Cabinet minister using Mr Blair’s name - but without clearing his exact command with the Prime Minister beforehand?

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3. Have Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the MoD handed over every single document mentioning Dr Kelly’s name in unedited form, or are they holding some material back?

4. Was the letter Dr Kelly wrote on 30 June really voluntary - or did he write it under the direction of the MoD?

5. How far were Mr Blair and Mr Campbell involved in the MoD’s plan to confirm Dr Kelly’s identity to journalists who correctly deduced it?