Thursday, February 05, 2004
Further thoughts on Hutton

The remit of the Hutton Inquiry was to examine the actions and processes of all parties involved in the events leading up to the suicide of Dr. Kelly. It was not designed to examine the political reasons for going to war or assessing the accuracy of the intelligence used in the dossier issued in September 2002. Whilst the actions of the BBC are damning enough and they are already paying a heavy price for their lack of editorial control over their journalists, they were not the only party involved in placing Dr Kelly's name in the public arena.

Lord Hutton concluded that the actions and the processes followed by the Ministry of Defence and 10 Downing Street were correct. This included avoiding the release of Dr Kelly's name to the media but allowed civil servants, sanctioned by ministers, to provide any information concerning this individual in order to force his identity into the public domain. Hence, the farcical result that reporters were running through lists of names until civil servants identified the correct individual that they had 'guessed'.

There is a sympathetic argument for the government: that if the name had not been released into the public domain, they would have been accused of a cover-up. However, the methods that they used to bring Kelly's name to the press, methods that were certainly agreed at meetings which included Blair, appear to have been followed for the political benefit of the government without taking Kelly's situation into account. Geoffrey Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence for one, was certainly aware that Kelly was not handling the stress of his position very well.

By convention, the civil service is bound to be neutral and impartial, serving the government of the day without overt partisan bias. It is important that the actions of civil servants and of politicians do not overstep the accepted boundaries. There is a case for stating that the release of information about Kelly, involving civil servants, intelligence officers and politicians in the committees that debated and made the relevant decisions, was an unacceptable politicisation of state institutions.

Britain has nothing similar to the First Amendment. That argument can be extended to include the checks and balances in the American Constitution, none of which are reproduced, except as convention in our own unwritten constitution. That is also why Blair's progressive undermining of the British constitution, both within and outside the government is viewed with alarm by many. I cite two examples: an upper house of appointed representatives and limiting the right to habeas corpus.

This is long-winded so, to conclude, the Hutton Report accepted practices and procedures that struck many who had followed the inquiry as manipulative; that appeared to favour the reputation of the New Labour administration; and were not designed to examine the accusations that intelligence findings were spun in order to enhance the case for going to war.

Both Campbell and Blair stated that they were accused of being liars: their proper recourse was to the libel courts, not to their civil servants.

(23.50, 5th February 2004)


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