Blair Under New Fire Over
Dead Scientist Probe

By Mike Peacock

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 Britons opposed.
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 media.
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 Kelly's exposure.
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 him then.
"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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