IN a way, I am grateful that Lord Hutton decided not to allow television coverage of his Inquiry into the death of David Kelly. Thus far, from what we know of them from the press, the proceedings have been absolutely fascinating quite on a par with the O J Simpson trial, one might say. If they had been live on TV I would have got no work done, the garden would have gone unwatered and the cats unfed. The Third Test would have had no chance. Then there are the documents dozens and dozens of them released by many of the interested parties, and some of them of the kind that we normally have to wait 30 years to see before the Public Records Office determines that they are sufficiently reduced in importance to be allowed into the light of day and seen by enquiring journalistic eyes. It will take weeks, if not months, to catch up with all the material that has been put into the public domain although we can assume that Lord Hutton and his formidable counsel, James Dingemans QC, have been through them to identify those that are of immediate importance. Among all these documents is a significant Foreign Office paper that came to light yesterday thanks to the investigations of The Guardian newspaper; it may well be at the forefront of the questioning of Tony Blair's two chief aides, Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, next week. It concerns the issue at the heart of Lord Hutton's Inquiry and, indeed, at the heart also of the government's case for going to war the claim in the September dossier that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to do so being given. The reliability of this claim has been challenged many times but in the House of Commons on June 4 Mr Blair said: It was alleged that the source for the 45 minute claim was an Iraqi defector of dubious reliability. He was not an Iraqi defector and he was an established and reliable source.
That statement seemed clear enough. But the Foreign Office document says something rather different that the 45 minute claim came from an established and reliable source, quoting a wellplaced senior officer.
In other words, the 45 minute claim that was put into the dossier at a late stage and given what has been called undue prominence was not firsthand but secondhand information. It was based on hearsay and, as the government has already admitted, it was not corroborated, as would have been normal for intelligence of this importance. When Alastair Campbell gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee he said about Andrew Gilligan's report on the dossier: I find it incredible...that people can report based on one single anonymous uncorroborated source. But now we know that the killer fact in the government's dossier was based on one single anonymous uncorroborated source quoting another single anonymous uncorroborated source. The Conservatives seem to be keeping their heads down during the Hutton Inquiry but the Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, said yesterday: This is classic hearsay. It provides an even thinner justification to go to war. If this is true, neither the prime minister nor the government have been entirely forthcoming. To say the least!