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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Faceless witness lets imagination race

By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter at the Hutton inquiry

It was tempting to imagine Sir Richard Dearlove speaking to the Hutton Inquiry while sitting in a palatial office in MI6's HQ surrounded by old masters and a bottle of sherry.

The MI6 chief had the right voice for the image of the leader of a team of James Bonds: suave, upper-crust and controlled. And with his words echoing around the court room via audiolink, the scene had sufficient intrigue to accompany the contribution from one of the country's top spymasters.

But judging by the wide range of background noises accompanying Sir Richard's evidence, his session with Lord Hutton had coincided with the security services getting the plumbers in.

I would prefer to refer to it as a piece of well-sourced intelligence
Sir Richard Dearlove on the 45-minutes claim

Amid much shuffling of papers, we also had scrapes, whooshes and one sound rather like metal being scraped around a porcelain sink.

"I would not normally comment in public on...(scrape, scratch)...established and reliable source...(whooo........oooshhhhhh)....I would insist....(flussssshhhhh)..

"Hey Bob, pass us that wrench will yer..."

I made that last bit up, of course.

What was clear, however, was that in his own urbane way, Sir Richard wasn't going to mess about.

After all, since joining "the service" as an officer in 1966, he's clearly found himself in tighter spots than this.

Asked about the claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, Sir Richard butted in to stop James Dingemans, counsel to the inquiry, in his tracks.

It wasn't, he said, a "claim". "I would prefer to refer to it as a piece of well-sourced intelligence."

Sir Richard was the third witness giving evidence on Monday. First up had been Tony Cragg, a former deputy chief of defence intelligence.

With a title that, you'd be forgiven for expecting him to glide into the room after landing outside in a helicopter.

Faces

With all due respect to Mr Cragg, he cut a slightly less glamorous figure: more commuter train to Guildford than passenger in a blacked-out limo.

He was followed by Air Marshal Sir Joe French - an actual helicopter pilot - and former chief of defence intelligence: a no nonsense arms-folded witness. Like Mr Cragg before him, he was clear: the Iraq dossier process had been above board and entirely proper.

Sir Richard Dearlove gave evidence via audio link
And so we came to Sir Richard Billing Dearlove, chief of the Secret Intelligence Services.

It was the third time the inquiry has heard evidence via audiolink. When members of the Kelly family were witnesses, their faces appeared on the screens in the court room.

When an anonymous Ministry of Defence official gave evidence, the MoD's crest flashed up.

There had been speculation amongst the gathered journalists that when Sir Richard's time came he would be pictured sitting in an Aston Martin with a striking blonde sitting next to him.

Deprived

Actually, there was just a blank screen.

But if we were deprived of images to put with the voice, Sir Richard did say enough for those present to get the impression that he is someone unfamiliar with hearing his words questioned.

For instance, he would, he said, have insisted on inaccurate material being withheld from the dossier on Iraq's weapons. What you are hearing from me is how it all happened, he explained.

There was also evidence of the 21st century world of management-speak creeping into the shadowy world of spooks and double-agents

And while we're at it, there's nothing wrong with single-sourced intelligence. My word is pretty much the law. OK?

And all in the polite, ponderous tones of an English gentleman.

But there was also evidence of the 21st century world of management-speak creeping into the shadowy world of spooks and double-agents.

Rivals

The 45-minutes claim - sorry, well-sourced piece of intelligence - had appeared in a "CX report" circulated by MI6 to "customers", said Sir Richard.

And, indeed, it had not evoked any comment at all from those customers. Satisfaction guaranteed from MI6! Better deals than all our rivals! Pop in soon for all your intelligence needs!

Moreover, so satisfied was Sir Richard with the dossier process that he told the inquiry he himself had proposed a vote of thanks to John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, for all his hard work.

And what's more, he added to laughter in the court room, this gesture was made "spontaneously of course".

So was there anything else Sir Richard had to say, asked Mr Dingemans?

"No," said the chief of the Secret Intelligence Services with a little chuckle, that was all. And you could just about imagine him switching off his microphone and pouring himself another glass of fine old sherry.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nicholas Witchell
"No fewer than 16 of the witnesses who've all ready given evidence are to be recalled"



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