The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, August 22, 2003

Hutton: where are we?

I've now read all bar the latest day of transcripts. And, mindful of my injunction to myself to avoid second-guessing Hutton (August 14), it's worth pausing for reflection. The more so, perhaps, because, at the end of yesterday's proceedings, Hutton laid out his provisional schedule for the rest of the hearings. With Tony Blair appearing next week, it seems that, as far as Stage 1 is concerned, we've turned for home.

Rising above the level of detail (for the very good reason of having not yet having a frightfully comprehensive grasp of it!), we have two main areas of interest: the process whereby the September dossier was drawn up; and way in which HMG dealt with the 45 minute claim in Andrew Gilligan's May 29 broadcasts.

In both, the strategy is, so far as possible, to protect Blair - the citadel, as it were - by concentric fortifications. (Or, perhaps, watertight bulkheads is a better analogy...) The further away from Blair responsibility for components in decision-making in both processes is fixed, the better.

In both cases, one has a body primarily concerned with the case - with the dossier, the JIC; with Kelly, the MOD. And, so far as possible, that body must be seen to take the key decisions. Number 10 (Blair and his people) must be seen as having an incidental role - commenting, presenting, taking an overview. Naturally, ultimate responsibility is Blair's. But, to adopt the distinction made by Sir Kevin Tebbit [1] between responsibility and culpability - avoiding the latter is the name of the game.

Thus, for example, the stress regularly made of injunctions - by Jonathan Powell, at one point, for example - that nothing should be included in the dossier that the JIC were not perfectly happy with; indeed, the insistence that John Scarlett, head of the JIC, should produce the first draft [2].

And a similar insistence, when it came to handling David Kelly, following his volunteering himself in his June 30 letter, that the MOD should take the lead, and handle the case primarily as a personnel matter.

Not to doubt that these injunctions were not accurately and contemporaneously recorded. On the contrary, they seem to show that a strategy of protecting Blair was well entrenched well before September 2002 - not with a public inquiry in mind, of course, but rather the sort of press interest that previous scandals (starting with the Bernie Ecclestone million pound donation to the Labour Party) had generated.

I infer from the questioning that, in both cases, Hutton is less than convinced. For example, on the dossier, Campbell attempted to downplay the blizzard of emails within No 10 communications staff commenting on the various drafts - referring to one guy involved thus [3]:
Danny Pruce is a very, very good
6 press officer, but this is him making contributions
7 effectively above his pay grade.

When Godric Smith (one of two men sharing the title Prime Minister's Official Spokesman) was questioned yesterday, he initially trivialised his own role [4]:
8 A. I was not routinely copied into drafts

Whereupon counsel methodically took him through the paperwork which rather undermined that position.

Some sessions are remarkably dull: Smith's is studded with nuggets, and demands to be read for comedy, if not content - Smith was evasive beyond the dreams of Gilligan, and chose to fence with counsel. Who was not impressed, as, for example at 120:16:
16 Q. Did you think Mr Pruce was somehow going well beyond his
17 remit in offering these comments?
18 A. Well, as far as I was concerned the person who was
19 leading on the presentation of the dossier as regards
20 Downing Street was Alastair Campbell.
21 Q. But he was inviting comments from others.
22 A. I do not know if he was inviting comments but I think
23 people were giving comments.
24 Q. They were being given drafts.
25 A. It is not uncommon for drafts of documents to be

1 circulated.
2 Q. Mr Smith, I must be frank with you, people had been
3 given drafts and then they are commenting on the drafts.
4 A. Yes.
5 Q. The reason they are given the drafts surely is so they
6 can comment on them.
7 A. I do not dispute that.

When it comes to the treatment of Kelly, a constant theme, often evoked by Lord Hutton himself, is whether the disclosure of Kelly's name - whether or not by the guessing-game technique which he appears to find particularly distasteful - was necessary to meet HMG's objectives. The counterfactuals he proposes [5] suggest that he is entertaining the possibility (to put it no higher) that the disclosure might not have been necessary.

The next event will be the release from Saturday of the documentary evidence held by the Inquiry (to date, only pages referred to in oral evidence have been placed online). We are promised (threatened?) 6,000 pages worth. The rogue Gilligan email clearly suggests that there may be evidence the Inquiry has yet to get its hands on.

The wild card - of which, so far as I'm aware, we've had no hint at all - is nature of the contribution of the Kelly family and (in the Stage 2 cross-examination phase) their lawyers. The family may well have already had an effect on proceedings, in their opposition to TV coverage tipping the balance in favour of exclusion. They do not have the institutional interests that civil servants or the BBC have; or the political interests of Blair and Co. Useless to speculate further on what they might do.

The hope has been that, to misquote LBJ, there will be a wider war: that the evidence produced in Stage 1 will blow apart the narrow terms of reference confining the scope of Hutton's work, in such a way as either producing a confrontation between Hutton and Blair, or a fuller examination of the basis on which the invasion of Iraq was undertaken. Nothing that I can see has emerged yet to succour that hope. But - the Fat Lady's still resting her vocal chords on vacation: plenty of time left...

  1. Transcript 98:24.

  2. Transcript 13:18 The first draft of the dossier, that is: it's in Campbell's interest to seek to make a clean break from earlier texts on the same subject that might not have so clear a non-No 10 provenance.

  3. Transcript 36:5

  4. Transcript 114:8

  5. For example, to Kevin Tebbit at 71:3.

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