Hoon Rejects Kelly Family's Criticism

Dr Kelly said he did not believe he was the BBC's main source

Oct. 15, 2003

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has rejected Dr David Kelly's family's accusations that he was guilty of false denials and hypocrisy at the Hutton inquiry into the weapons expert's death.

In his first lengthy interview since the hearings into Dr Kelly's apparent suicide, Mr Hoon said he stood by his evidence.

The embattled minister refused to discuss speculation that he might resign and he urged the public not to rely on media commentaries of evidence at the inquiry.

Mr Hoon also said the interim findings from the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had vindicated the government's Iraq dossier - despite no weapons being found.

Family's attack

Dr Kelly died after being named as the possible source for the BBC's report on claims that the government "sexed up" intelligence in the dossier.

At the inquiry, Kelly family QC Jeremy Gompertz said there was a "deliberate decision to use Dr Kelly as part of its strategy in its battle with the BBC".

He said the diaries of former Downing Street media chief Alastair Campbell showed the "hypocrisy" in Mr Hoon's denials there was any such strategy.

Asked about the criticisms, the defence secretary told Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2: "I absolutely resist the suggestion completely. He was putting his case, as I understood it. I do not accept his case. I gave my evidence and I stand by the evidence I gave."

Mr Hoon said he still rejected claims there was a conspiracy to name Dr Kelly indirectly.

And suggestions he was "out of the loop" about major decisions were made in press commentaries and were not his words, he said.

"I accept that I'm accountable to Parliament for everything that happens in the Ministry of Defence," he went on.

'Wait for report'

Asked about speculation that he would resign, Mr Hoon said: "I'm perfectly prepared to accept the comments of a free press about my performance as Secretary of State for Defence.

"I have just completed my fourth year in the job, which must indicate that someone at any rate judges that I'm capable of completing the job satisfactorily...

Many commentators believe Geoff Hoon's career is on the line

"I suspect I would prefer that these comments await the results of Lord Hutton's report, rather than the kind of speculation that we see in anticipation of it."

Mr Hoon defended the accuracy of the government weapons dossier and said the interim findings of the Iraq Survey Group revealed "astonishing details" about Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes.

"There was a pattern of intelligence demonstrating that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had the programmes to produce these weapons," he said.

"I accept that we have not found physical evidence as yet of weapons of mass destruction, but what we have found are determined efforts not only to deceive but determined efforts to develop these programmes to produce weapons of mass destruction."

False impression?

The day after the dossier's publication, the Sun newspaper was among those suggesting the government was warning that weapons of mass destruction could be fired on British bases in Cyprus within 45 minutes of an order.

But Mr Hoon said the dossier made it clear it was talking about "battlefield munitions", although other evidence showed Iraq was trying to develop longer range missiles.

It was up to newspapers how they reported events, he said, denying the government had been happy about false impressions of the Iraqi threat because they created an atmosphere where people would back the war.

The defence secretary said he would have hoped, but not expected, for the survey group to have found weapons after three months of searching.

But if the weapons had been buried in the desert, for example, it would take a "great deal of time to dig up until we can find that evidence", he added.


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