- LONDON (Reuters) - Prime
Minister Tony Blair was grilled Wednesday over a late submission by his
government to a potentially explosive inquiry into the death of a British
scientist, which is due to report shortly.
- Blair's spokesman admitted the government had sent information
to senior judge Lord Hutton after he concluded his investigation last Autumn
but denied it included new evidence.
- Opposition Conservatives demanded its publication and
accused Blair of trying to pre-empt Hutton's findings. But Hutton said
there was nothing surprising about the submission.
- Weapons expert David Kelly slashed his wrist last July
after being exposed as the source behind a BBC reporter's claim that Blair
and his team inflated the threat posed by Iraq to justify a war which most
- Speculation is rife that the prime minister's team wanted
to put their slant on evidence given by Sir Kevin Tebbit, top civil servant
at the Ministry of Defense.
- At the last day of the inquiry, Tebbit said Blair had
chaired a meeting where it was decided to make a statement publicly clarifying
the government's position -- a move which led to Kelly's exposure.
- Days after Kelly's death, Blair emphatically denied to
reporters that he authorized the leaking of the scientist's name to the
- In a statement Wednesday, Lord Hutton said all parties
to the inquiry had been given the opportunity to make late submissions
and that the government, the BBC and the Kelly family had done so.
- The judge said there was nothing "unexpected or
of special significance" in their actions and that he had decided
not to publish them before issuing his report.
- Blair's spokesman refused to be drawn on the contents
of the government's evidence.
- British political life is all but frozen in anticipation
of the report. It is due to be released this month and could point the
finger of blame at senior government figures. No publication date has been
named, serving only to increase the tension.
- In parliament, Conservative leader Michael Howard pressed
Blair to confirm that he stood by his statement that he had not authorized
- Howard said either Blair or Tebbit must be lying.
- "I stand by the totality of what I said at that
time," Blair replied. When pressed he repeated that phrase, which
appeared to offer some room for maneuver.
- "If you lie to the House 49 percent of the time,
it would seem that is OK because the 'totality' of it is that he spoke
the truth," Conservative legislator Michael Fabricant said.
- Blair urged Howard to wait for the report and cross-examine
- "I can assure the prime minister that I am looking
forward to that," the combative Howard said. His party believes that
if Hutton personally criticizes Blair, he could be fatally wounded.
- Nine months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, none of
the weapons of mass destruction that Blair claimed the Iraqi leader had
primed for use, has been discovered.
- In the meantime his public trust ratings have slumped.
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