Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Blair to call inquiry over death of defense adviser

AP , SOUTHMOOR, ENGLAND

British Prime Minister Tony Blair adjusts his earphone as he listens to a reporter's question during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi following their summit talks in Hakone, west of Tokyo, yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Police searched the home of a weapons expert yesterday for clues to a death which has plunged Prime Minister Tony Blair's government deeper into controversy over the intelligence used to justify war in Iraq.

An eight-member police search team entered the home of former UN weapons inspector David Kelly yesterday, a day after he was tentatively identified as the man found dead near a clump of woods outside the village. Some of the officers searched in Kelly's garden.

Police have not disclosed the cause of death.

Kelly, a Ministry of Defence expert, was suspected of being the source of reports that the government hyped a dossier on former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

His wife said he felt enormous pressure when he was called before a parliamentary committee, where he denied that he was not the source the government was vigorously trying to smoke out.

Blair, speaking in Tokyo on Saturday as he began an Asian tour, said the death an "absolutely terrible tragedy."

"I hope that we can set aside the speculation and the claims and the counterclaims and allow that due process to take its proper course," said Blair, who ordered an independent inquiry into the case. "This is an absolutely terrible tragedy. I'm profoundly sad for David Kelly and his family."

Called before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Kelly, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq between 1991 and 1998, denied being the source of a BBC report that accused Blair's communications director of adding dubious claims to an intelligence dossier published in September.

Kelly's wife reportedly said he was stressed and "very, very angry" about being caught up in a public controversy.

Janice Kelly reported her husband missing Thursday night when he failed to return from an afternoon walk. The body was found Friday morning outside his village of Southmoor, 30km southwest of Oxford.

Blair described Kelly as "a fine, public servant who did an immense amount of good for his country in the past, and I'm sure would have done so again in the future."

Opposition Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith urged Blair to return to London. "There are very many questions that will need to be asked over the coming days," Duncan Smith said. The death was a sensational development in a controversy threatening the government's credibility.

The big issue is whether the prime minister misled the country about Iraq's weapons.

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