Saturday, August 23, 2003
Hutton: The Final Stretch - 22nd August 2003, 00.08

Despite the efforts of pundits to decry the BBC and insist that the inquiry will have inflicted permanent damage on this institution, the final act is yet to come. It is not Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies who have to appear before the inquiry, but Geoff Hoon and Anthony Lynton Blair - facing the increasingly praised forensic skills of James Dingemans QC.

The last two days have been damaging to the government. Alistair Campbell took the stand and stated that he had attempted to downplay the claims of the dossier. Perhaps this was true and the political adviser had learned from the many mistakes made during the last few years of press manipulation. He certainly portrayed himself as a Sobersides.

Rather than “sexing up” the dossier, Campbell said he had advised the document’s drafters “‘the drier the better, cut the rhetoric’ ... I also said the more intelligence-based it was, the better.”

“This dossier is sometimes described as the prime minister making a case for war,” Campbell said. “What it was actually doing was setting out in as factual a way as possible the reasons why the government was concerned about Saddam’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program ... We always sought to describe it as a serious and credible threat.”

However, documents that circulated today demonstrated that Campbell had made a number of changes to the dossier in order to strengthen the presentation to the public. Moreover, the intelligence material included in the dossier was viewed by the political wing of the civil service as unconvincing and too weak to support the political claims required by No. 10. For example they wished to include a reference to Saddam Hussein buying uranium in Africa but this originated in a single source and was too vague to support their arguments.

The documents released yesterday showed that presentational issues of this kind received considerable attention in Downing Street in the two weeks before the publication of the dossier.

On Sept 10, Daniel Pruce, a press officer, wrote an email about the dossier saying: "Much of the evidence we have is largely circumstantial, so we need to convey to our readers that the cumulation of these facts demonstrates an intent on Saddam's part."

The following day Philip Bassett, a senior political adviser, offered his comments. "Crucially, though, it's intelligence-lite," he wrote. "It feels like this is the least possible intelligence material the intell people are prepared to let go (despite the fact that we say at a couple of points, eg para 2, that it's everything the Govt knows on the issue - which it clearly isn't). All intelligence material tends to read like unevidenced assertion, and we have to find a way to get over this a) by having better intelligence material . . . b) by having more material (and better flagged up) and c) more convincing material."

Already, John Maples has called for Campbell to reappear before the Foreign Affairs Committee and Hutton may also request further appearances. His manipulation behind the scenes was confirmed by Godric Smith, who stated that the Svengali was responsible for the idea that Kelly's identity should be drawn in a chalk outline for the media.

Whilst the government has been fishing for one of the Cabinet, Hoon, to be sacrificed, the continued revelations and malicious drips show that the ministries and press officers have been unable to agree on a single line before the inquiry and are suffering as a result. As the second week has drawn on, the potential of this inquiry for wreaking significant damage on Blair has grown. One wonders if, after his appearance, will significant documents appear in the press?


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