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Stinging end to UK probe

London, Sept. 25 (Reuters): The British government sustained a withering attack today at the end of an inquiry into the suicide of an Iraq weapons expert which an opinion poll showed had severely damaged public trust in Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The family of David Kelly, who killed himself after being sucked into a feud between the government and the BBC over a disputed report on Iraq, accused the government of cynically using Kelly as a pawn in its battle with the broadcaster and portrayed defence minister Geoff Hoon as a liar and a hypocrite.

Senior Judge Lord Hutton, chairing the inquiry, says no one will be immune from criticism in his final report, which will address doubts over Blair’s case for the Iraq war, questions over the government’s treatment of Kelly and over BBC reporting.

The Kelly inquiry and the failure to find banned weapons in Iraq — the primary motive Blair gave for war — has plunged him into the worst political crisis of his six-year tenure.

The latest sounding in The Guardian newspaper showed Blair’s ratings have slumped over the summer so that now 61 per cent of voters are unhappy with the job he is doing.

Jeremy Gompertz, counsel for the inquiry, accused the government of seeking Kelly’s exposure as the source of the BBC report in a bid to discredit the accusation that it “sexed up” the case for war in Iraq.

Such a strategy “was a cynical abuse of power which deserves the strongest possible condemnation,” Gompertz added.

He described government denials that it had sought to exploit Kelly as hypocrisy and singled out Hoon, who is widely expected to lose his job after the inquiry, for stinging criticism.

Hoon, who told the inquiry of his concern to protect Kelly, had in fact strongly supported efforts to expose him.

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