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SOL: Tony Blair's Evidence At The Hutton Inquiry

From the Streets of London with William Moloney

Hutton Inquiry - Week 3 Day 2

The main witness today at the Inquiry was The Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Mr. Blair is only the second serving Prime Minister to give evidence at a judicial inquiry. Mr. Blair’s appearance has sparked much interest with a queue of many hundreds of people, with waiting over night, trying to gain access to the few public seats in the courtroom.

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Tony Blair, The Prime Minister

Mr. Blair said that the dossier came out of the newfound urgency to address rogue states and WMD after September 11.

He said that the other 3 countries were dropped from the dossier as Iraq had proved itself to be the urgent case, flagrantly flouting UN rulings and had shown it was capable of using WMD.

Mr. Blair said he decided to announce the publication of the dossier following a conversation with U.S. President George Bush, where it was decided that they needed to confront the issue and “get on with it”.

Mr. Blair was in “no doubt” that Alistair Campbell would assist in the presentational aspects of the dossier, but “…he knew the document was owned by the JIC and the Chairman John Scarlett”.

Mr. Blair said he was unaware of every of Mr. Campbell’s specific comments on the dossier but he was aware that he would be making comments on it.

Lord Hutton asked whether an e-mail stating that the wording should be as strong as possible reflected Number 10 opinion.

Mr. Blair replied that only if the intelligence agreed and that “no improper weight” was given to any aspect of it.

Mr. Blair stated that no complaints about the use of information reached him or the JIC.

Mr. Blair said he did not recall commenting on the 45-min claim.

Mr. Blair said it was “absolutely wrong” for the BBC to suggest that he did not use the 45-min claim after it’s appearance in the dossier because he knew it to be false.

“...there was absolutely no reason for us to doubt the intelligence at all”

“ …the strategy was not to use the dossier as the immediate reason for going to conflict”

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Mr. Blair was asked about Andrew Gilligan’s report.

“This was an absolutely fundamental charge. It is one thing to say we disagree with the government; you should not have gone to war. People can have a disagreement about that. This was an allegation that we had behaved in a way that, were it true, as I say tested - the allegation being true it would have merited my resignation".

"Any person listening to that would think we had done something improper, not that we just got our facts mixed up."

The only way that this “raging storm” was going to go away was if the BBC “clearly and unequivocally” said that the story was wrong. He did not believe they would do that.

Mr. Blair said that he had a private conversation with BBC Chairman Gavyn Davis on 7th July to see if the issue could be resolved.

Mr. Davis’ notes of the conversation said that he was unable to apologize to the Prime Minister, as the source had not been disproved.

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Mr. Blair was then asked about Dr. Kelly

His Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, informed Mr. Blair that someone from the MOD had come forward as the possible source.

"we handled this by the book, in the sense of with the advice of senior civil servants, not as I say in order to pass responsibility to them but in order to make sure that this was not, as it were, the politicians driving the system."

On the weekend of the 5th and 6th, an article appeared in The Times, which Mr. Blair felt made it more probable that Dr. Kelly was the source.

Mr. Blair said it was “his firm view” that they must proceed as per the MOD internal procedures. He told Alistair Campbell to be very careful.

He asked to have as much information as possible and was informed that Dr. Kelly would be going through a second interview.

His understanding was that everything was occurring with Dr. Kelly’s co-operation.

Mr. Blair thought that it was a “fair possibility” that it would leak that an official had come forward.

In the meeting on the 7th of July, it was the group’s opinion “that if it became clear that in all probability he was the source, the information could not remain undisclosed."

In the meeting on the 8th of July, it was decided that it was fairly clear that Dr. Kelly was the source.

They decided it was improper to conceal the information and it was decided that Omand should write to the ISC and copy the FAC informing them of an official had come forward and then make it public.

He said that he was aware that Number 10 had been involved in drafting this press release.

Mr. Blair said he was not aware of the MOD press office Q and A sheet, but it was natural for them to prepare.

"I think the basic view would have been not to offer the name but on the other hand not to mislead people."

"You know in fairness to the MOD press people I think it was difficult for them. It was difficult for them."

*******ENDS*******

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