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Blair Will Be Asked to Testify During Inquiry Into Scientist's Suicide

August 02, 2003|Janet Stobart | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be called to testify on the death of eminent microbiologist David Kelly, the chief investigator said Friday.

Kelly, a former U.N. weapons inspector, had been named in media and government circles as the source for BBC reports that accused the government of "sexing up" or exaggerating the dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. The files were part of the material presented by the Blair government to build support for going to war against Iraq.

The official inquiry into events surrounding the suicide of Kelly, a scientific advisor to the government on Iraq's chemical and biological weaponry, was launched by Lord Hutton, a senior judge, and one of Britain's Law Lords, the country's highest judicial authority.

Hutton began Friday's initial hearing with a minute's silence in homage to Kelly's "very tragic death."

He said he would try to establish the events leading up to the suicide and then investigate any "discrepancies that would no doubt arise."

"At some stage in the course of the inquiry I propose to ask the prime minister and the secretary of state for defense, Mr. Geoff Hoon, to give evidence of their knowledge of the discussions which took place and the decisions which were taken in relation to Dr. Kelly," he said.

Hutton outlined the events based on documents received from the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defense and the BBC. Speaking to a packed courtroom in London's Royal Courts of Justice, he itemized discussions between government and high-ranking BBC officials, which culminated in the disclosure of Kelly as the source used by BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan.

In a broadcast and a Sunday tabloid article, Gilligan said his source named the prime minister's press spokesman Alistair Campbell as the force behind the government's decision to overemphasize Iraq's readiness to unleash weapons of mass destruction.

Hutton said he would question BBC journalists -- Kelly had conversations with three, including Gilligan, and there is at least one audiotape of an interview with BBC2 journalist Susan Watts -- to establish how and with what authority the reports were prepared.

However, Hutton insisted that the inquiry would not be a battleground for the BBC and the prime minister's officials to seek vindication.

"It is not a trial conducted between interested parties who have conflicting cases to advance. I do not sit to decide between conflicting cases -- I sit to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly's death."

While this is not a legally binding inquiry -- Hutton cannot force any unwilling witnesses to give evidence -- all the known witnesses, from the prime minister down, have said they are willing to participate.

Other witnesses to be called are Blair's press director Campbell and journalist Gilligan as well as BBC officials and Donald Anderson, head of the parliamentary committee that grilled Kelly on his role as the possible source of the press reports, only two days before his death.

All sessions of the inquiry were to be conducted in public, Hutton said, "unless considerations of national security require me to sit in private." The hearing was adjourned until Aug. 11, to allow time for Kelly's funeral Wednesday.

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