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Breakfast with Frost
On Sunday, 20 July 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

John Prescott MP
Premature to call for resignations before the full facts were known

PETER SISSONS: Now the Deputy Prime Minister isn't based at Downing Street and doesn't run one of the ministries directly involved in preparation for the war, but this morning's headlines suggest that the process of picking over the war's causes, culminating in the tragic death of Dr Kelly, will end up damaging the Government as a whole. John Prescott is here. Good morning John.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Good morning Peter.

PETER SISSONS: The Sunday Times say they had the last interview with Dr Kelly and he felt betrayed by the MOD revealing his name when he expected it to stay confidential. That betrayal, if that's what it is, and if it drove him to suicide, could it ever be condoned?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well let me start right from the beginning expressing my deepest sympathy to Dr Kelly's family. These are tragic circumstances and I'm sure they welcome the inquiry that's now being set up by a distinguished judge, Lord Hutton to look into the facts, and that's precisely what is behind the question you're posing with the, with one of the allegations made in the Sunday Times.

There's a dearth of information and true facts and that's why we set up Lord Hutton, because I looked at the Sunday papers today and see all the various accusations made against a number of people, the BBC, the Government, the media, etcetera, I think the advice to all of them is exactly what in fact Dr Kelly's family have said, reflect hard and long on this matter, and I think we should do that.

PETER SISSONS: But if it drove him to suicide, was it wrong to make his name public?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think they're the questions that we've established Lord Hutton to actually investigate and to give his report on - it's desperately short of real factual information. I don't doubt that some of the accusations now made are firmly believed by those people, I listen to Glenda Jackson now saying it's her opinion, fine she's entitled to an opinion but it's not necessarily the right judgement because she doesn't have all the facts, as she admits herself.

That's why there's an inquiry and that's why I was so appalled when yesterday she was saying, calling for resignations before the facts had been established. That is not the way to conduct in these serious situations, or indeed to give proper respect to Dr Kelly and the tragic circumstances in which he died.

PETER SISSONS: Quite a serious matter when a former minister -

JOHN PRESCOTT: Absolutely serious.

PETER SISSONS: Well it's a serious matter when a former minister like Glenda Jackson calls upon the Prime Minister to resign.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I still think that for her to call on for someone to resign before the facts have been established - and I see today she's now saying it's her opinion, fine, we all knew it was her opinion - it actually coincides with her view about the Iraq war, and indeed much of the comment being made today rather reflects people's past opinions on the Iraq war.

But look, we've established Lord Hutton, he's a distinguished judge; the family have asked us to reflect hard and long; and I don't want to breach what I think is my own recommendation, supporting the family and asking us to reflect hard and long - media, BBC, the Government and everybody that's involved in these circumstances - and let Lord Hutton establish the facts.

PETER SISSONS: The family however say the pressure was intolerable and the clear inference here is that it was far more than he could take. Do you think they're owed an apology?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, again, the extent of that pressure, the circumstances of that pressure, we hope that Lord Hutton will be able to establish and I think that we should wait for his independent judgement on this matter. But I've no doubt there's pressure. Anybody living in public life today, involved in a story with the press, would know exactly what that pressure is. Not in the political inside or whatever it might be, but certainly outside your front door.

Dr Kelly constantly complained about the press and the media outside. Now I'm not making the allegations against press but, you know, in industrial dispute sometimes you can't picket outside the home. The intolerable pressure of not being able to get into the peace and tranquillity of your home, to have to hike your way through the photographers and the press, I mean I would like to appeal to the editors and to these people, let them grieve, in these circumstances, in a way that they can deal with the terrible circumstances and reflect hard and long.

PETER SISSONS: Lord Hutton, at the end of the day, will apportion blame. I mean that's what, I mean there are people waiting there to know their fate. Would you expect when and if there are those type of findings, there to be departures from the government?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well again you're asking to make a judgement on the matter of the allegations at the moment without the facts being established. I'm sure that when Lord Hutton comes to make his considered conclusions and his judgements on these matters, everybody who might be affected by those judgements has to reflect hard and long on their positions.

But at the end of the day you can't make those judgements at the moment and all the allegations that are flying around in the press. And it does involve all of us, it involves ourselves as politicians, in this kind of culture politicians and media that play this part and contribute undoubtedly to the kind of environment of allegations that we're getting at the moment and all of this, again I say the advice given to us by the family is to reflect hard and long. And perhaps we should do it now with a bit of restraint. Perhaps we should be thinking now precisely of the terrible circumstances the family face and that we should be all thinking of any role, that anyone's played in this matter.

PETER SISSONS: There's no restraint from Peter Mandelson today, launching into the BBC again. Would you agree that the BBC didn't drag Dr Kelly's name into the public domain, didn't treat him like a common criminal before a select committee?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well my advice to Peter Mandelson, or indeed I've just given it to Glenda Jackson, is to reflect hard and long. It's the same thinking as anyone contributing at this moment. I don't think he can personally, it may be his opinion, his judgement, but the judgement on the BBC, or the judgement on government, or the judgement on media generally, is the one I think that Lord Hutton will address himself to in the circumstances that affected the tragic death of Dr Kelly.

PETER SISSONS: Are you going to get a wider report from Lord Hutton than you have bargained for? Would you expect him, if he needs to, to go much further than the immediate circumstances of death but to go right back to the two contentious dossiers?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well as the Prime Minister's made clear, and Geoff Hoon, it's up to Lord Hutton to establish what he feels is necessary to come to a proper judgement of the circumstances that led to the tragic death of Dr Kelly. But I must say there are also -

PETER SISSONS: - It will also be a judgement on the circumstances that led to the war.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I must say also that even when we have inquiries by the Select Committee, for example in regard to Alastair Campbell, whether he sexed up the document, hears the committee looks at it, both sides of the House, comes to a judgement that he didn't do what he was accused of, it didn't stop the debate, nobody changed their opinion and said the Select Committee had come to that decision, and that's one of the difficulties in this politic situation.

So I think Lord Hutton is the one that we look to, he's a distinguished judge, to actually make that judgement. But what we should do now is reflect hard and long and wait for his impartial judgement on these circumstances.

PETER SISSONS: You'll have looked at some of the commentators today, all of them agree the government is at its lowest ebb. You've been number two for six years now, can you remember a rockier time for the government? A time when the government was trusted less?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, well - first of all about whether it's a rockier time, what's unique about this government, it's never lost a by-election, it's always actually done well without criticism, it's now in a difficult period.

But I've worked with this man ten years, he is a man of trust, he is a man of honour, he does what he believes is right and I think the time now is to respect and restrain, let the family mourn, wait for the judge's verdict and when the lessons are learned, the BBC, media and everybody will have to learn those lessons. A bit of humility and dignity is what the country wants and certainly the family and that's all that we should do.


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