British Official Warned Against Releasing Name of Weapons Expert

July 7, 2008 - 7:14 PM

London (CNSNews.com) - A top U.K. Ministry of Defense official recommended against making a government weapons adviser testify in front of a House of Commons committee, an inquiry into the death of David Kelly heard Wednesday.

Kelly, a former U.N. weapons inspector and one of Britain's leading experts on weapons of mass destruction, was found dead from an apparent suicide last month.

He had been caught up in a fight between the government and the British Broadcasting Corp. after defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan used him as an anonymous source in a May 29 report.

Gilligan's story claimed that a dossier on Iraq's weapons capabilities issued last September contained exaggerations inserted by the government to bolster the case for war, contrary to the views of intelligence experts. The government denies the claim.

The inquiry, led by senior judge Lord Hutton, has been charged with establishing the sequence of events that led to Kelly's death. Both the BBC and the British government have come under fire for putting pressure on the scientist.

On Wednesday, Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MoD's top civil servant, said he had advised Prime Minister Tony Blair's Downing Street office that Kelly should not be forced to appear before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

"This was such an intense matter...it seemed to me that it was necessary to try to control the process to some degree out of consideration for Dr. Kelly," Tebbit said.

Tebbit stated that after he heard the BBC report, he realized Kelly might have "uncomfortable" things to say about the dossier.

But Tebbit also said he tried to prevent leaks about Kelly's identity from originating inside the MoD.

Kelly came to his MoD bosses of his own volition and told them that he had contacts with BBC reporters and may have been the source of Gilligan's report.

The Ministry of Defense announced on July 8 that an unnamed official had come forward, and Kelly was identified in the media shortly afterwards.

Tebbit said that his boss, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, overruled his views on the leaking of Kelly's name, and Commons lawmakers grilled Kelly on July 15. He was found dead three days later.

In later testimony, an official Downing Street spokesman said that the idea of leaking Kelly's name was suggested by Alastair Campbell, Blair's director of communications.

Godric Smith testified there was dissent within Downing Street on whether to follow through with the leak and that he was personally opposed to it

"I thought that...if the decision was taken to make this information public, then the government should make it public itself," he said.

Campbell himself testified before the committee Tuesday, when he defended the dossier, saying that all of the information contained within it was cleared by officials with Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee.

Blair and Hoon will likely appear before the Hutton Inquiry later this month.

See Earlier Story:
Blair's Communication Director Defends Dossier
(Aug. 19, 2003)

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.