| Deputy chief of defence intelligence Martin Howard. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 16 (Reuters): Tensions rose dramatically today at an inquiry into the suicide of a British expert on banned Iraqi weapons as a lawyer for his family accused a top government official of playing Russian roulette with the dead man’s life.
Judge Lord Hutton’s investigation into why government scientist David Kelly took his own life has up to now been precise but courteous in its questioning of witnesses.
But now the gloves are off as lawyers for the government, BBC and the Kelly family are let off the leash to cross-examine key figures who have been recalled to the inquiry.
Today’s sharp interrogation of Martin Howard, deputy chief of defence intelligence, will serve as a warning to embattled defence secretary Geoff Hoon and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s communications chief Alastair Campbell, who will appear again next Monday.
Blair will not testify again but has already suffered severe political damage over Kelly’s death and the wider case the government made for war on Iraq.
Kelly slashed his wrist in July after he was exposed as the source of a BBC report accusing the government of hyping up the case for war to win over sceptical Britons. Blair’s public trust ratings have since evaporated, with most Britons doubting the case he made for attacking Iraq and many blaming his administration for Kelly’s demise.
Howard, who was closely involved in the decision to make Kelly’s name public, was pressed by Jeremy Gompertz, the Kelly family’s counsel, to admit the mild-mannered weapons expert had been treated “shabbily”.
A nervous looking Howard disagreed.
Glenmore Trenear-Harvey, an intelligence expert who watched the proceedings, told Sky Television: “Howard was a most discomfited little bunny.”
Less than two weeks before his death, Kelly was told by his ministry of defence bosses that they would have to put out a statement saying an official had talked to BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan, but that he would not be named.
Kelly agreed but as events unfolded, clues to his identity were given to reporters by both defence press officers and Blair’s spokesperson and the ministry of defence then agreed to confirm Kelly’s name to any journalist who guessed it. Several did.
Gompertz put it to Howard that the ministry of defence had played a game of “Russian roulette” with Kelly and nobody had given any thought to his state of mind.
“The strategy that was adopted with regard to Kelly’s name was both cynical and irresponsible,” the lawyer said.