Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Blair faces new allegation about identifying scientist

FRESH TESTIMONY The inquiry into David Kelly's death heard the government felt they were `sitting on a ticking bomb' after Kelly admitted meeting a journalist

AFP , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair chaired a key meeting at which it was agreed how scientist David Kelly's name should be made public, the inquiry into the death of the arms expert heard on Monday.

In a one-off final session of the probe, the defense ministry's top civil servant, Sir Kevin Tebbit, said that the government felt they were "sitting on ... a ticking bomb" after Kelly admitted meeting a BBC journalist.

Kelly, 59, took his life in July, shortly after he was named as the source of a BBC radio report in May that alleged that the government's September last year dossier on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction had been "sexed up."

The inquiry was told that Blair chaired a meeting, the day before Kelly's name came out, where it was agreed officials would confirm the identity of the former UN arms inspector if his name was put to them by reporters.

"The change of stance, as you put it, was as a result of the meeting chaired by the prime minister," said Tebbit, the defense ministry's permanent secretary.

After senior judge Lord Brian Hutton had closed proceedings and retired to write up his fin-dings, opposition Conservative foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram blasted Blair for his role in the affair.

"Kevin Tebbit's evidence is yet another damning indictment of Tony Blair's role in the naming of Dr. Kelly. The prime minister's denials are now shown to be a sham," Ancram said.

Tebbit "categorically" denied that there was any intention to covertly reveal Kelly's name as the BBC and the prime minister's office were locked in a row over the public broadcaster's allegations.

"You are assuming that there was some process to reveal Dr. Kelly's name. There was no process," Tebbit said.

Kelly's suicide thrust Blair into his worst political crisis since he took office in 1997. Question marks about Blair's involvement may now be hanging over his head at least until January, after Hutton said his report, originally expected by next month or December, may not be published until next year.

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