| Two Iraqi children sit next to a disabled Iraqi surface-to-air missile in a Baghdad suburb on Sunday. (Reuters)
London, Aug. 3: Geoff Hoon, the UK defence secretary, was under fire from cabinet colleagues last night after it emerged that he plans to go on holiday rather than attend the funeral of David Kelly, the government scientist who died in an apparent suicide last month.
Hoon has decided to travel to the US for a long-planned break with his wife and three children, despite being warned by colleagues that it will be seen as insensitive if he misses Kelly’s funeral on Wednesday.
Senior ministers are privately furious that Hoon will not be present to pay his respects at the graveside, even though Kelly was a senior official in his ministry. “It is unbelievable that he is doing this,” said one minister last night. “We have to sacrifice our private lives for the job but he won’t do it.”
Colleagues pointed out last night that, as it was official duty, he would not have to cancel his holiday but could travel back at the taxpayers’ expense. Hoon is known for refusing to break his family commitments when they have clashed with his official duties. In February, he caused outrage when he went skiing in France while British soldiers were gathering in the heat of the Kuwaiti desert in preparation for the Iraq war.
He was also criticised for going to the British Grand Prix two days after Kelly’s body was found. Hoon, 49, whose cabinet post could be in jeopardy if he is criticised in Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the circumstances leading up to Kelly’s death, is understood to have told colleagues he “would be in trouble at home” if he abandoned his holiday.
A Whitehall official said: “The ministry of defence will be making an announcement soon. We understand that Hoon will be abroad. We are working on the options.”
Aides suspect that he may yet be forced to change his plans — and stay in Britain for the funeral — if the anticipated public outcry over his holiday becomes too intense. In Hoon’s absence, the government is expected to be represented at the funeral by John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister. Tony Blair has already begun his summer holiday in Barbados.
Kelly was found dead on July 18 in woods near his Oxfordshire home. His death came only a couple of days after he had given evidence to the Commons foreign affairs select committee, which was investigating claims that he was the source for a BBC report alleging the government had overridden objections from intelligence services by inserting false claims into a dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to boost support for military intervention. Hoon, accused of allowing Kelly’s identity to be made public, has denied responsibility for leaking his name.
MI6 chief to quit
The head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service is to stand down next year, the foreign office said yesterday, but denied reports that he was leaving due to differences with the government over Iraq.
A foreign office spokesperson said that Sir Richard Dearlove, 58, would be retiring in August 2004 after five years in the post, the normal term for the head of the intelligence service known as MI6. “Sir Richard Dearlove continues to enjoy the fullest possible confidence of the Prime Minister, the foreign secretary and the rest of the government on Iraq and all other intelligence issues,” the spokesperson said. “This is in no way connected to events relating to Iraq.”