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Streets Of London: Looking the Other Way

From the Streets of London with William Moloney

Looking the Other Way

In my life, the most exciting things happen when I am looking the other way. I was once with a group of people that spotted a kiwi as we were walking through the bush. I alas was looking out for a potential possum attack. My girlfriend once saw Chelsea Clinton as I was struggling to park the car. Apparently, she is not as pretty in real life, Lord help her. And I was recently fielding at second slip, chatting merrily to first slip, when I was surprised to be struck by the ball in the chest. Apparently, it was a straight-forward chance and there was me, looking the other way.

So it came as no surprise this week, when the Westminster Village all came together for the Hutton Inquiry, in the hottest week London has known since the great fire, I was battling camper vans on Croatia’s single-lane roads. It wasn’t until I found a tabacconist in the small Croatian town of Nin (which has the finest beaches in Dalmatian, the smallest Cathedral in Europe and where a kilo of grilled langoustine will cost you 200 Kuna) who spoke the most impeccable English and stocked two-day old English papers – that I realised what I had been missing.

What I have been missing is the greatest Inquiry that has ever enquired. The first reason it is the greatest inquiry is that it is scheduled to last only 3 weeks. It usually takes an Inquiry 3 weeks just to state what it may and may not enquire into, and what time lunch will be. Any self respecting inquiry last for 2 years, with another year for its findings. But the Hutton is a condensed version, fit for our short attentions spans.

The second reason that this is the greatest Inquiry in the world is the use of technology. Every writer, every TV personality who has spoken of the Inquiry has spoken of the screens that festoon the courtroom. These screens give life to the endless documents that are the body of any Inquiry. These documents are displayed during the relevant testimonies, above and behind the witness, bringing fresh light to the witnesses’ memories and thus keeping them from being “economical with the truth”.

The third reason that this is the greatest Inquiry is the list of witnesses to be cross-examined. This week we have seen the BBC radio and television reporters, as well as the Mandarins of Whitehall. In the coming weeks we are to see the great and the good of Westminster’s three pillars on the stand. We are to see the higher echelons of the MOD, intelligence committees, Parliamentarians, Media and Govt. Special Advisors. The list is to long to name but my two highlights, Alistair Campbell and Tony Blair.

What a treat to see the Prime Minister – a man who has thwarted Parliamentary questions with his inability to be struck with the truth – with only a QC in front of him and no all-empowering bickering back bench behind.

With all of this yet to come, you may be forgiven for thinking that very little has happened this first and past week. But this is far from the truth, for that is what we have started to see in the first week, the truth.

The Inquiry heard this week, that part of Dr. Kelly’s job description was to brief the media as both an attributable and non-attributable source. That Dr Kelly in his assessments had been praised for the way he carried out these tasks.

The Inquiry heard that Dr. Kelly was Britain’s leading expert on Iraq’s WMD.

The Inquiry heard that Dr. Kelly was not the only official to express concern over the documents published. Two Defence Intelligence Service Analyst’s took written exception to the contents; one stating that there was “a lot of spin on it”.

This was all on Monday.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the inquiry shifted from the MOD to the BBC. First before the Inquiry was Andrew Gilligan – the journalist at the centre of the affair. In his answers he was shown to be disorganised: incredibly he has lost his original notes from his discussion with Dr. Kelly. Due to this he was forced to read from transcribed notes stored on his Palm Pilot. However, these notes reflected what he had reported, that he had a source (Dr. Kelly) who said that the dossier had been “sexed up” and that it was done by Alistair Campbell. But he had to admit that his original story was “not perfect”, that he had not chosen his words well. He admitted to having to revise this story in later broadcasts.

What came next was an insight into the workings of Westminster that the public never sees. Mr. Gilligan was shown two complaints received 37 minutes after his original broadcast. One was from Alistair Campbell and one from the Gerald Kauffman, Chairman of the Commons Media Committee. Mr Gilligan was asked if he saw anything interesting in the two documents, he replied that they were identical. Amazingly, 37 minutes after broadcast, Alistair Campbell had two identical documents; one signed by a chairman of a Parliamentary committee, on its way to the BBC. This came as no surprise to those in the Village; you are not doing your job till you have a draw full of such complaints.

The next BBC witness was the antithesis of Mr Gilligan. Where Gilligan was sloppy with records and notes, Ms. Watts, televisions Newsnight Science reporter, was meticulous. Where Gilligan had to rely on transcribed notes, Ms. Watts had numbered notebooks and taped conversations. Gilligan looks like a messy programmer: bald, overweight and slightly dishevelled. Ms. Watts like an old English nanny: thin, with sensible school glasses, neat clothing and a severe bob. She was cautious with the information Dr. Kelly gave her, whilst Gilligan was gung-ho. Gilligan broke the story, and Watts “missed a trick”. Wonderfully for the BBC, she confirmed, in her meticulous manner, that she had been given the same information from Dr. Kelly that Gilligan had reported.

The next day, saw the Inquiry move from the BBC to Whitehall. The Inquiry probed for the answer on how Dr. Kelly’s name as the source became public knowledge. The Inquiry heard how every manager who thought they had reached a resolution with Dr. Kelly over his statements was overruled as the issue went up the Whitehall tree. And it seemed to have travelled all the way up the tree. All the way to Geoff Hoon in fact, who with Number 10’s approval, overruled Sir Kevin Tebbit, the Permanent Secretary, and directed that Dr. Kelly should testify to the select committee; for “presentational reasons” apparently.

The Inquiry then heard that Dr. Kelly was subjected to a number of interviews with his superiors prior to his appearance before the Select Committee. It was suggested, denied, and then admitted, that the MOD had coached Dr. Kelly. Only admitted when the screens, in all their blazing glory, contradicted Dr. Kelly’s line manager.

It was also suggested that Dr. Kelly was starting to wilt under the strain of this internal pressure. His line manager again denied it, only to be contradicted by the screens, which showed the official MOD notes that stated Dr. Kelly was “apparently feeling the pressure and is not handling it well”. This pressure never lifted, with Dr. Kelly’s line manager being the last person to speak to him about 1pm on the day he died. He then continued to call through-out the afternoon, with Dr. Kelly sitting alone, not the needless hero in a corner of the foreign field but of a very English one.

Then, in the last hours of the week, the names on the documents became more interesting. The Head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Number 10’s Chief of Staff, Number 10 Chief of Foreign Affairs, Alistair Campbell and then Tony Blair himself, were shown to have become involved in decisions about Dr. Kelly. All promising interesting things to come.

Today, after arriving back from Croatia, and after suffering a frustrating 45-minute wait for baggage, I had access to the Sunday papers. Front and centre were the first of the journalistic scoops of the Inquiry.

Having trawled through the documents of the Inquiry, one paper was able to piece together the flow of the versions of the dossier at the centre of the Inquiry. This flow shows that the language of the dossier noticeably hardened in the last week.

An example of this was that the title itself even changed from: “Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction” to “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction”; this new wording shifting emphasis from the possibility to the actuality of Iraq’s WMDs. It sounds like a “sexing up” to me; I think it may have left a smudge of lipstick on my collar.

It has been an interesting week. We are starting to see more and more of that elusive beast truth. I am sure the next weeks we will see even more sittings of it. I am almost certain to be looking the other way.

ENDS

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