Tough Questions for Tebbit

Oct. 13, 2003
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It was always likely that testimony from Sir Kevin Tebbit was going to be central to the Hutton inquiry.

The permanent secretary at the ministry of defence knows better than most precisely what role Downing Street played in the process which led to the naming of Dr Kelly.

He also knows precisely how the department treated the scientist after he came forward as a possible source for the BBC story that the government sexed up its dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

And he was indeed subjected to tough questioning over these areas by the inquiry.

He confirmed that Downing Street had taken the policy decision to allow the MoD press office to confirm Dr Kelly's name if journalists came up with it.

That appears to contradict the government's line that it was down to the MoD.

But he repeated time and again that there was no campaign to "out" Dr Kelly.

He also accepted it was odd that Dr Kelly had not been given greater warning by the MoD that his name was being confirmed.

New twist?

What he probably had not expected, however, was that a chance meeting over a buffet dinner would return to haunt him during these proceedings.

But that encounter threw an unexpected new twist into the bitter allegations over Dr Kelly's death.

As the Hutton inquiry re-convened for one final, delayed session, it was presented with an extraordinary account of that meeting between Sir Kevin and BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins, and a later newspaper report.

And it raised new questions over the government's approach to Dr Kelly once he had come forward.

Sir Kevin found himself denying suggestions he had admitted "outing" Dr David Kelly and describing him as "weird and eccentric."


The implications were clear. That there had been a concerted campaign by the government to smear or, at least belittle Dr Kelly.

The prime minister's official spokesman Tom Kelly has already apologised for describing Dr Kelly as a "Water Mitty" character.

Sir Kevin was clearly distressed by the reports of the meeting, insisting he had only said that anyone who spoke to the BBC's Andrew Gilligan must be off his head.

It was an uncomfortable session - one of many in this courtroom over the summer.

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