Blair will have to answer charge of settling scores in row with BBC

TONY Blair, the Prime Minister, will next Thursday be asked by the Hutton Inquiry if he ordered Dr David Kelly to be used as a weapon of last resort to settle Downing Street’s running battle with the BBC.

The Prime Minister faces questions about whether Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, was acting under orders when he sent Dr Kelly to be grilled by a televised committee of MPs - against a senior civil servant’s advice.

Mr Blair’s evidence will be heard the day after Mr Hoon appears in front of Lord Hutton’s inquiry to mount a vigorous defence of his behaviour, possibly arguing that he was passing on No10’s view that Dr Kelly should be exposed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

After its second week, the Hutton inquiry has established Dr Kelly was regarded by Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s communications director, as the only person who could solve his long-running dispute with the BBC. After learning Dr Kelly was the "source" for the BBC’s 29 May story - that No10 "sexed up" its Iraq dossier - Mr Campbell has admitted he wanted to name him purely to avenge the BBC.

Mr Blair has been portrayed by Mr Campbell as the restraining force. The key word is that the Prime Minister cautioned against any "precipitate" action when Dr Kelly’s name was first mentioned.

But after a weekend’s reflection, Mr Blair authorised the MoD to make Dr Kelly’s name public - agreeing this was the only way to settle the dispute. It has not yet been established how directly involved the Prime Minister was in that process.

From his interventions so far, Lord Hutton has suggested No10 may have become obsessed with the BBC story - at a time when both journalists and House of Commons committees were losing interest.

Lord Hutton has asked government witnesses to comment on two documents, appearing to suggest the row had been settled in the government’s favour and was dying down of its own accord - without the need to name Dr Kelly.

The first is a letter from BBC governors, saying they do not question Mr Blair’s integrity or believe he misled MPs when presenting his September dossier on Iraq. The second is the conclusions of the foreign affairs committee report clearing Mr Campbell of the BBC’s central charge: that he introduced the section arguing that Saddam’s weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes.

Both Mr Campbell and Sir Kevin Tebbit, permanent secretary at the MoD, were not satisfied by either document, as both contained caveats.

Sir Kevin had said the "public debate" - understood to be a reference to the media - had not been neutralised. Mr Campbell said the "allegation" still stood, and could only be answered by making Dr Kelly go public.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Blair will be asked whether he shared this view: and, if so, whether he now feels his judgment was clouded by the personal animosity he felt towards the BBC and its refusal to back down.

Mr Hoon’s allies are understood to feel that No10 are preparing for him to be the fall guy. In defence, he is expected to argue very major decision he made on Dr Kelly was done with Downing Street’s knowledge.