A “Hutton style” inquiry?

rebekah brooks and tony blairOn Monday 11th July 2011, the day after the News of the World published its final issue, Tony Blair spoke to Rebekah Brooks in what Brooks says was an hour-long phone call, and Brooks summarised the phonecall in an email to James Murdoch:

“1. Form an independent unit that has an outside junior counsel, Ken Macdonald, a great and good type, a serious forensic criminal barrister, internal counsel, proper fact checkers etc in it. Get them to investigate me and others and publish a Hutton style report,”

“2. Publish part one of the report at same time as the police closes its inquiry and clear you and accept short comings and new solutions and process and part two when any trials are over.

“3. Keep strong and definitely sleeping pills. Need to have clear heads and remember no rash short term solutions as they only give you long term headaches.

“4. It will pass. Tough up.

“5. He is available for you, KRM [Rupert Murdoch] and me as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us”

A “Hutton style report” is obviously not a whitewash which exempts the people at the top from blame. Lord Hutton said so himself:

“If all the evidence given at my inquiry was fairly taken into account, there was no reasonable basis on which my conclusion that the government did not know that the 45 minutes claim was wrong and had not ordered the dossier to be sexed up could be described as a whitewash of the government.”

Rather, a “Hutton style” inquiry focusses narrowly on one specific issue – in the Hutton enquiry, the BBC’s report on the September dossier.

Doctor David Kelly was named as the source for the BBC report that Downing Street had “sexed up” the report in order to convey the impression to Labour backbenchers that Iraq was an immediate threat:

The scientist was used to talking to journalists behind the scenes but he now became a key figure in the row between the government and the BBC over claims Downing Street had “sexed up” a dossier on Iraq’s weapons capability.

The BBC report, in May 2003, cast doubt on the government’s claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capable of being deployed within 45 minutes.

After he was named in newspapers, Dr Kelly gave evidence to MPs’ committees in which he said he did not believe he was the main source of the story.

Two days after his testimony, the 59-year-old was found dead in woodland a few miles from his Oxfordshire home after apparently taking his own life.

His wife Janice later told the inquiry into his death that her husband had been utterly dismayed by the media frenzy around him.

Dr Kelly had spent the majority of his career as a consultant to the MoD and other government departments and agencies, advising them on his area of expertise – arms control.

The Hutton inquiry absolved the UK government of blame in Doctor David Kelly’s death. Speculation has continued to surface in the decade since he died that his death was not a suicide or that if it was, the cause of Dr Kelly’s despair was largely the tank-like determination of Tony Blair to drive the UK into war with Iraq regardless of the lives and reputations destroyed:

Kelly was outed as the BBC’s source, felt publicly humiliated and was reprimanded by his bosses. A proud man felt let down by them, and that his reputation built up over a lifetime was being irreparably tarnished.

In the days before that final walk Kelly’s family said they had never seen him so low. As news of his death spread, the normally self-assured Blair seemed stunned when a reporter cried: “Do you have blood on your hands?”

Kelly’s death led not to an inquest, but a public inquiry by Lord Hutton, which brought a rare glimpse into the secret worlds of Whitehall, British intelligence, the low arts of high politics, and the workings of the BBC.

Its conclusion largely absolved the government of blame, and surprised observers.

In the years since, if Doctor David Kelly had lived, he would have seen himself exonerated and Blair proved a liar who knew that the September dossier he had presented to the House of Commons as evidence for war contained false information.

The Chilcot inquiry report is yet to be released to the public, but it’s been reported:

Hitherto unseen evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry by British intelligence has revealed that former prime minister Tony Blair was told that Iraq had, at most, only a trivial amount of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that Libya was in this respect a far greater threat.

Intelligence officers have disclosed that just the day before Mr Blair went to visit president George Bush in April 2002, he appeared to accept this but returned a “changed man” and subsequently ordered the production of dossiers to “find the intelligence” that he wanted to use to justify going to war.

So, the question is: when Blair tells Rebekah Brooks that what she needs is a “Hutton style inquiry” into phone hacking at the News of the World – what exactly did he mean by that?

Tony

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Filed under Corruption, War

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