Monday 4 August 2003

Kelly inquiry to probe spy links

Head of intelligence group faces public ordeal as Hutton probes death of WMD expert

One of Britain's most senior intelligence officials is to be called to give evidence on the central role Dr David Kelly played in drawing up the crucial September dossier into Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, will testify on Kelly's intelligence contacts and relationship with MI6, throwing into sharp relief evidence from the Ministry of Defence that Kelly was a middle-ranking official who had a role in preparing historical parts of the dossier only.

It was later revealed that Kelly was in fact one of the Government's most senior weapons experts who would be expected to have access to the latest intelligence assessments of Saddam Hussein's biological, chemical and nuclear arsenal.

If Scarlett's evidence differs from that of the MoD it will again increase pressure on Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary. The Observer revealed last week that Hoon had met Kelly for lunch to discuss Iraq before the war, an unusual meeting if Kelly's standing was as originally described by the MoD. It was later reported that Hoon had denied ever meeting Kelly.

Officials close to the inquiry team said that Hutton, the former Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice who is leading the inquiry into Kelly's suicide last month, was intending to hear as much of the inquiry's evidence as possible in public session.

It is therefore possible that Scarlett will be obliged to appear in public for the first time unless his officials can show that his evidence should be heard in private for reasons of national security.

It would be unprecedented for such a senior figure in the intelligence community to be called to a public hearing to give evidence.

Scarlett is thought to be the man referred to anonymously by Hutton during his opening remarks to the inquiry on Friday.

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