Thursday, January 08, 2004

Blair's second chance

Lord Hutton gave Tony Blair's government time to give additional secret evidence to the inquiry, and then agreed with Blair that this new evidence could remain secret. The new evidence was presumably an attempt to explain away the lies that had been revealed in the course of the inquiry, in particular in the late testimony given by Sir Kevin Tebbit, which directly contradicted Blair's statements that he had nothing to do with the outing of David Kelly (although there is a suggestion that the new evidence might have something to do with Hoon's testimony). Here is the Tebbit testimony, starting with the question asked of Tebbit (located here, sections 56 to 58; my emphasis):

". . . in the first version . . . the position adopted with regard to naming was that there was nothing to be gained by naming the individual and that the MoD were not prepared to name him. I expect you know that now, even if you did not know it at the time?
A. Yes, and I assume that was the press office interpretation of the position we had on the Friday evening, after Mr Hatfield's first conversation, which suggested that we would not be going forward with this information, because we were not able, at that stage, to be certain that this was the source.

Q. In version 2 the question asked was, "Is it X?", ie the correct name. And the response to be given was that: we need to tell the individual. You know that now?

A. Yes, because this was before the Government had decided on the statement which was then put to Dr Kelly, which he approved.

Q. So it is all based on the approval of that statement, is it, the change in stance?

A. The approval of that statement was part of the reflection of the - the change in stance, as you put it, was a decision taken by a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.

Q. And version 3, of course, the answer was different, that if the correct name was put it was to be confirmed without consulting the individual. You know that now, do you not?

A. I knew that then because I had seen that press statement.

Q. Yes, it is the change that I am asking you about.

A. The change, I have to tell you, is irrelevant because a policy decision on the handling of this matter had not been taken until the Prime Minister's meeting on the Tuesday. And it was only after that that any of the press people had an authoritative basis on which to proceed.

Q. So are you saying this: that the decisions which led, in fact, to the naming of Dr Kelly were taken at No. 10 Downing Street and not by the Ministry of Defence?

A. I was not trying to make that point. I was trying to contrast to you the difference between a formal decision on bringing forward the information into the public arena and the stage before any such decision had been taken.

Q. Whether you were making that point or not, what is the position? That the decision was taken at No. 10 and not by the Ministry of Defence, or by the Ministry of Defence?

A. The decision was taken at a meeting in No. 10 with which the Ministry of Defence concurred."

So Blair chaired the meeting at which the mechanics of outing Kelly, by confirming the name suggested by the journalists, was decided. This directly contradicts Blair, who has said he will resign if he is found to have lied to parliament (Blair left himself some wiggle room as his statement "I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly" was made to journalists and not to Parliament). I thought Hutton did a surprisingly good job at appearing to be fair and open in the conduct of the inquiry, but in this move he lit a bonfire a under his own credibility and the integrity of the whole inquiry. If Blair gets an after-the-fact kick at the can, and in secret so we can't even see what the new evidence was about, the whole pretense of having an open inquiry is revealed for the charade that it is. Lord Hutton appears to be just another hack cover-up artiste, and not even a particularly clever one. I hope to write my last report on David Kelly, on the religious aspects of the case, before Lord Hutton releases his report.