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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
The legacy of the Hutton Inquiry

By Andy Tighe
BBC home affairs correspondent

Lord Hutton
The gaze of the court put pressure on the government and BBC

So, after more than 22 days, 110 hours of evidence and 74 witnesses, what have we learned from the Hutton Inquiry?

Without doubt, it has offered an unusual insight into the inner workings of Whitehall.

From the prime minister downwards, some of the most powerful figures in the land have submitted themselves to interrogation by a battery of hand-picked, eagle-eyed lawyers.

Memos, e-mails and phone calls have been scrutinised in the kind of detail that would make anyone who has ever picked up a pen, switched on a computer or spoken on the telephone thank their lucky stars that their own personal records are not on the inquiry's list of evidence.

Shadowy

The obscure and often complex machinations of government have been revealed and lofty civil service mandarins forced to account for their actions.

Even the shadowy figures of the so-called intelligence community have been summoned to give evidence, albeit in some cases via video or audio-links.

But how much more do we know about David Kelly, the quietly-spoken weapons scientist who apparently took his own life as a frenzied whirlwind of government opprobrium and media curiosity descended upon him?

[David Kelly] was something of a cuckoo in the nest of the neatly ordered and carefully layered British bureaucracy
Well, for one thing, we know that Dr Kelly was not the middle-ranking technician he was sometimes described as.

Whatever his formal civil service grade he was probably the country's foremost expert in biological warfare and an internationally-regarded weapons inspector.

We also know that he was something of a cuckoo in the nest of the neatly ordered and carefully layered British bureaucracy.

He was paid by one government department, had a desk in another and spent large parts of the year abroad, engaged in the stressful and enormously difficult task of trying to find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Dr Kelly felt undervalued by his various masters in London and was concerned that he was missing out on promotion and pay rises by the unorthodox requirements of his very extraordinary job.

Suspicion

But he was also a man who spoke to journalists. In the past, his dealings with the press had apparently been of little concern to his managers, at least when he limited his observations to scientific matters and kept clear of politics.

After the dossier scandal erupted, every journalist contact he had ever had became a cause for suspicion and shortly before he died he was ordered to compile a list of all the reporters he knew.

Of course, the media has come under just as much scrutiny as the government in this inquiry, especially the BBC.

Reporters and their bosses have found themselves in the unenviable position of having to explain working methods that often seem unsatisfyingly vague and ill-disciplined, compared with the forensic certainties of a courtroom.

The BBC's chairman and director-general have been summoned to answer the damaging charges of journalistic inaccuracy, weak editorial control and a preoccupation with asserting the BBC's independence from political interference.

This has not been the first inquiry to delve deeply into the often obscure workings of major British establishments.

Blast of light

Lord Hutton's report may or may not lead to sackings, resignations or important reforms.

In the past, some of the most momentous inquiries have produced volumes of recommendations that still lie, gathering dust on the shelves.

But in one important respect I think this inquiry will leave its mark.

Seldom has so much light been shed so swiftly and so ruthlessly on two major public bodies: the government and the BBC.

Sadly, from the complex jigsaw of evidence amassed over the last six weeks, the images that have emerged have not always been edifying ones.

And in this sense, whatever Lord Hutton's conclusions, the revelations of the last few weeks have already proved damaging to some prominent individuals and institutions.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nicholas Witchell
"Six weeks of remarkable disclosures"



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