Ministry of Defense Under Fire for Naming Expert

July 7, 2008 - 8:14 PM

London (CNSNews.com) - An official from Britain's Ministry of Defense faced tough cross-examination Thursday during testimony in front of an inquiry into the death of a MoD weapons expert.

MoD personnel chief Richard Hatfield said that in hindsight, he should have taken action against scientist David Kelly for speaking to a BBC reporter about a dossier containing evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.

"I think I would probably have been forced to suspend Dr. Kelly," Hatfield said.

A conversation between Kelly and BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan became the basis for a story calling the government's presentation of the dossier into doubt. The report in turn sparked a war of words between the government and Britain's taxpayer-supported broadcaster.

Kelly, the sole anonymous source of the report, was later identified by the MoD. He was called in front of a House of Commons committee and was found dead three days later.

The scientist's family has said he felt betrayed by his MoD employers for allowing his name to be leaked to the press.

"I was very surprised to hear that he thought that way, if that means the people dealing with this crisis betrayed him, because I think we gave him a lot of support," Hatfield testified Tuesday.

"The public identification followed from his own act of talking to Mr. Gilligan," Hatfield said. "I do not think we needed (Kelly's) explicit consent to give his name out."

After Gilligan's report, Kelly came forward to the MoD and said that he might be the source of the story, even though previous testimony has indicated that the scientist felt Gilligan's story was not entirely consistent with his views.

Hatfield said he had told Kelly about a prepared press statement saying that an unnamed official had come forward but neglected to tell him that MoD press officers had been instructed to confirm Kelly's name if reporters brought it up first.

Under questioning by lawyers from the BBC and Kelly's family, Hatfield denied that the ministry had mistreated Kelly.

Computer 'anomalies'

Later on Thursday, a computer expert who examined Gilligan's personal organizer said that there were several "anomalies" on the machine.

Edward Wilding told the Hutton Inquiry that the name of Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair's former director of communications, did not appear on one file containing some of Gilligan's notes from his meeting with Kelly.

Gilligan pinned accusations of intelligence exaggeration directly on Campbell and has adamantly asserted that Kelly was the one who mentioned Campbell's name.

Wilding also said there appeared to be some tampering with the computer.

"Somebody was looking at creating memos and seeing if dates and times could be changed," Wilding said.

Near the end of the day's hearing, Gilligan was recalled to the stand and denied that he had fiddled with the organizer. He stood by his story that Kelly had mentioned Campbell's name, which showed up in a later version of Gilligan's notes.

"I cannot remember why I did not note (Campbell's name) in the first version," the reporter said. "It may be that he (Kelly) was going too fast; I did not get it down the first time."

See Earlier Story:
BBC Reporter Admits Mistakes in Broadcasts on Dossier
(Sept. 17, 2003)

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.