London, Sept. 22 (Reuters): British defence secretary Geoff Hoon, his job widely seen as being on the line, came out fighting today at his second appearance before an inquiry investigating the death of an expert into Iraq’s banned weapons.
In combative mood, he said his department had made no errors in its handling of the scientist, who killed himself after being thrust into the limelight as the source of a report alleging the government had hyped the threat from Iraq.
Hoon was adamant that the ministry of defence had protected the anonymity of David Kelly and denied a suggestion that the government had agreed a strategy to leak Kelly’s name.
Kelly committed suicide after Hoon’s ministry confirmed to journalists that he was the source of a BBC news report that accused the government of “sexing up” a dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to justify war to a sceptical public.
British media have pinpointed Hoon as the most likely government “fall guy” of the Kelly affair. But the former barrister looked in no mood to take the blame today, even accusing counsel for Kelly’s family of misleading earlier witnesses.
On behalf of the Kelly family, Jeremy Gompertz, suggested there had been a government-wide strategy to leak Kelly’s name — as part of its efforts to undermine the BBC report — without appearing to do so. “I would be extremely surprised if that is an argument that any reasonable person could make,” Hoon countered defiantly.
During the media storm over the BBC report, the ministry of defence issued a press statement saying a possible source for the report had come forward and it decided to confirm Kelly’s name to journalists if the right name was put to it. Blair’s official spokesperson also released a string of details to reporters about the nature of the source’s work, the department he worked for and who paid him. Hoon said he had been unaware of the spokesperson’s press briefing.