Speaker by Various Artists

Don't mention the War

by David Williams

'Cleared'. 'Saint Tony', 'BBC in crisis'.

These headlines from the Evening Standard, Daily Express and The Sun, respectively, set out how Tony Blair has been found to be so clean that he might squeak when he walks. The Hutton Inquiry established to investigate the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly found the British PM to be whiter than white and sent the BBC back to journalism school.

Dr Kelly was the source of a controversial story run by the BBC last year which made assertions the Government had "sexed up" an intelligence dossier released in September 2002 to convince the British public of the threat from Iraq. The BBC report stated the dossier included a claim that Saddam Hussein was able to launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, despite the Government knowing it was wrong.

Dr Kelly was outed as the source - and it was revealed he had an unauthorised conversation with another BBC reporter - after appearing before a parliamentary committee. Feeling the pressure from his employer, the Ministry of Defence, to answer questions regarding his conduct and following a public humiliation at the committee hearing, he took his own life in July.

For those people new to the story, the Hutton report must seem pretty unequivocal. Blair cleared, BBC criticised, Government exonerated and the Ministry of Defence rapped over the knuckles for not telling Dr Kelly he was to be named. The dossier was good, the war on Iraq was justified, end of story.

However, it's not that simple.

The BBC is heavily criticised in the Hutton report, and Today reporter Andrew Gilligan is being singled out, not because the claims were wrong but, because of shoddy journalistic practices, they were not proven. Gilligan's notes from the Kelly interview were found to be unreliable. His broadcast was unscripted and his notes were not checked by his superiors. The BBC governors were censured for not fully investigating the story when the Government complained.

Lord Hutton found Gilligan's claims to be unfounded. True. But he went on to say this: "It may be that when Gilligan suggested to Dr Kelly that the dossier was transformed to make it sexier, Dr Kelly agreed. It maybe that Dr Kelly said that Alastair Campbell (the PM's director of communications) was responsible for transforming the dossier."

It was the uncertainty in Gilligan's notes that proved the key point. Imagine if he HAD taken proper notes and instead of using the words sexed up had used something less dramatic, like over-egged. At least one high-profile British politician, Robin Cook, mourns this point (in an article on the pay-only part of The Independent's site).He says: "If only Mr Gilligan had been content to report that as a straight story, he would have made a valuable contribution to the case against the war."

Listening to the coverage of the Hutton report yesterday, from the report itself, to the debate in the Commons, to the radio panel discussions later, I became increasingly frustrated.

It started with Tony Blair. In his trademark style, he brushed aside Mr Howard's reference to the Prime Minister's denial to journalists on July 22 that he authorised the naming of Dr Kelly. This is despite Sir Kevin Tebbitt, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, telling the Hutton inquiry on October 13 that the prime minister chaired the meeting at which the naming policy was taken.

Speaking in a careful and controlled manner in the Commons, only raising his voice to speak over his crowing supporters, Mr Blair declared triumphantly: "The allegation that I or anyone else lied to this House or deliberately misled the country by falsifying intelligence on WMD is itself the real lie."

Mr Blair also ignored calls from Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy and Mr Howard for an independent inquiry into the basis for war.

I heard three interviews with Government bulldog John Reid, the health secretary, who was sent out to tackle TV and radio. When pressed on matters in the future - such as what should happen to the BBC board or why the evidence presented in the dossier was so wrong (in reference to the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq) - he pointedly refused to answer. He told interviewers that these things were matters for other people (maybe that's why they sent out the health secretary and not, say, the Minister of Defence) and "today, of all days" it was a matter to reflect on the findings of Lord Hutton and for the Government's detractors (including the BBC) to apologise.

On Newsnight, a well-watched BBC television programme, Mr Campbell took presenter Jeremy Paxman to task over the BBC's lack of apology for what it had said about the Government and him in particular. Any talk of weapons of mass destruction was deflected by statements the former spin doctor that he "wasn't in the Government".

Guitar-playing Tony Blair might be striking up some celebratory chords, but they are pointedly ignoring the whole fact there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and their intelligence is clearly wrong!

Hutton's remit was extremely narrow and it did not suit his inquiry to cover every point. He had a duty to the Kelly family to try and discover the reasons for the suicide and a duty to the Government to test the claims in the BBC story. He did not have a duty to discover if the Government was justified in going to war.

The reason why Britain has been going mad about this inquiry, which ran from August to October last year, is because it dealt with issues regarding the war on Iraq. Between a million and two million people marched through London in February last year to protest against the war so you can imagine the Government went to extraordinary lengths to convince the public that Iraq was an imminent threat.

The public's cynicism was borne out by evidence given at the Hutton Inquiry, of which two points stood out to me.

Jonathan Powell, the PM‚s chief of staff, said in an email to the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, on September 17 that the dossier, as it stood then, did not demonstrate Iraq was an imminent threat.

In a cynical use of the media two days later, Mr Powell asks Mr Scarlett and Mr Campbell "what will be the headline in the (London Evening) Standard on day of publication? What do we want it to be?"

That headline on September 24 read "45 minutes from attack". Mr Blair said in his statement to the Commons yesterday: "Only in retrospect, has history been rewritten to establish it (the 45-minute claim) as the one crucial claim that marched the nation into conflict. Yet that was the headline they obviously wanted to appear on that crucial day.

It's time for the people of Britain to find out, through an independent inquiry, whether the Government was justified in going to war with Iraq.