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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
'Mr A' takes centre stage
By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter at the Hutton inquiry

If anyone in court room 73 had been contemplating a post-lunch nap, the phrase soon had them back on full alert.

For the first time, the Hutton inquiry was taking evidence from an anonymous witness, with Ministry of Defence official "Mr A" speaking via audiolink.

And if that wasn't dramatic enough, the e-mail he sent to Dr David Kelly the day after the Iraq weapons dossier was published last September immediately had the press benches scribbling frantically.

"Mr A" had suggested to his friend and colleague that including claims about Iraq's Al-Qa'qa chemical plant in the dossier was "a pretty stupid mistake".

What's more, the email went on, it was "an example to support our view that you and I should have been more involved in this than the spin merchants of this administration".

No prizes for guessing which particular phrase caused the most interest.

Asked to explain what he meant, "Mr A", his voice echoing around the court, said it was "a general comment from the working level....about perceived interference".

The dossier had been "round the houses several times in order to find a form of words that would strengthen certain political objectives".

In the end, so much of the debate over the Iraq dossier and the subsequent row following the BBC report quoting claims that it had been "sexed up" by the government comes back to the use of language.


Earlier in the inquiry, an email from a BBC manager criticising correspondent Andrew Gilligan's "loose use of language" received considerable coverage.

But on Wednesday it was concerns about the use of language in the dossier itself which took centre stage.

Language is the means by which we communicate an assessment
Dr Brian Jones
"Mr A" and Dr Brian Jones, a former senior official in the Defence Intelligence Analysis Staff, were giving evidence as the inquiry neared the end of its first stage.

The inquiry was shown the detailed points "Mr A", Dr Kelly and others had raised about the language in the dossier.

And Dr Jones emphasised how important precise language was deemed to be in his department, from which he has now retired.

"Language is the means by which we communicate an assessment," he said.

Dr Jones chose his words carefully during his evidence session, often pausing as he rocked on his chair in the witness box.

He painted a picture of returning from a holiday last September to find his staff working under "higher pressures" than usual ahead of the dossier's publication - and gossiping about where that pressure was coming from.

There was "an impression" that Downing Street was involved with the increase in workload, he said.

But it was the testimony of "Mr A", a casually employed civil servant in the MoD's counter proliferation arms control department, which was most dramatic.

'Reasonable and accurate'

He spoke of "errors of detail and errors of emphasis" in the dossier - but was more circumspect on the contentious claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes.

The suggestion "begged more questions than it answered", said "Mr A" - but neither he nor Dr Kelly had felt it should not be included.
We felt that his loss was a sore loss for the Iraq Survey Group... and we miss his expertise and his friendship
"Mr A"

Indeed, "Mr A" also said both he and Dr Kelly had felt that the document "as a whole was a reasonable and accurate reflection of the intelligence that we had available to us at the time".

"It is just that it included some points which could have been left out," he said later.

The most poignant moments of the day's evidence came as "Mr A" described how his friend had changed in the days before his death.

The man who was usually "chatty, friendly and gregarious" had appeared "distracted" after being summoned to London for a second meeting with MoD chiefs about his contacts with Andrew Gilligan.

And "Mr A" went on to describe how, days after Dr Kelly's death, 30 of his former colleagues gathered in Baghdad "to remember the man and his achievements".

"We felt that his loss was a sore loss for the Iraq Survey Group... and we miss his expertise and his friendship."

The BBC's Andy Tighe
"We don't know who they are, we may not get to know who they are"

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