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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 20:57 GMT
Hutton report 'was no whitewash'
Tony Blair in the Commons debate
Mr Blair said evidence of weapons programmes were uncovered
Tony Blair has dismissed fresh concern about the intelligence gathered about Iraq and again defended his decision to go to war.

His comments during a Commons debate were interrupted by anti-war protesters shouting "no more whitewashes".

Mr Blair said the Hutton report had cleared the government of sexing up its Iraq dossier.

He also played down concerns about the dossier voiced by a former senior defence intelligence official.

The Commons was suspended for about 10 minutes while the public gallery was cleared - the first time it has happened since 1987.

Amid heckles, Mr Blair joked: "I somehow feel I am not being entirely persuasive in certain quarters."
The word most missing during this saga was truth
Lord Birt
Ex-BBC Director General

Seven protesters were held by police after the incident.

The Oxford Citizens for Truth group said it had organised the protest because of anger over the war and the new inquiry into the pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons.

After his release, protester Richard Hering said about the Commons: "There is a completely fake debate, nothing is actually discussed."

New inquiry

But the prime minister insisted: "I am not ashamed of taking the decision to go to war.

"I think we did the right thing... I think this country and its armed forces should be proud of what we achieved."

Mr Blair called the BBC report which sparked the Hutton inquiry "100% wrong" and said the retired law lord's "forensic" report was the best defence against accusations of a whitewash.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The Hutton remit was so narrow and the findings so one-sided as to defy belief
JK Jackson, Newcastle

He told MPs he accepted the Iraq Survey Group had not found the banned weapons he had expected to be uncovered, but they had found evidence of weapons programmes.

Even if the group found nothing more "we would have been irresponsible in the highest degree not to have acted against Saddam", he argued.

He tackled the fears raised by Dr Brian Jones, a retired senior official in the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS).

Dr Jones told the Independent newspaper the DIS' "unified view" was for there to be careful caveats about assessments of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons.

But they had been overruled by the heads of the intelligence agencies.

In my view the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier... resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities
Dr Brian Jones

Dr Jones said the publication of other top intelligence that he was aware of would have removed his reservation.

Mr Blair said Dr Jones' concerns had been considered by the head of defence intelligence, who decided the dossier's wording was correct.

And the official's argument was not to exclude the claims from the dossier but to say "intelligence indicates" rather than "intelligence shows".

That difference was "hardly of earth-shattering significance", said Mr Blair.

BBC checks

Conservative leader Michael Howard claimed Mr Blair had been bounced into holding a new inquiry into intelligence - to be chaired by ex-cabinet secretary Lord Butler - by President George Bush's decision to have one in America.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy complained the inquiry would not address the "fundamental question which the public want addressed", which was the political judgment to go to war.

Both the main opposition party leaders said the report should not be used to undermine the BBC's independence.

But in the House of Lords' Hutton debate, former BBC director-general Lord Birt said the weapons' story should neither have been broadcast nor defended.

The BBC's governors "took far too long to exert a grip as the crisis rumbled on", he said, arguing the corporation's governance system had been called into question.

Acting BBC chairman Lord Ryder said it was right for the corporation to apologise for its mistakes, most of which had been conceded during the Hutton inquiry.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Polly Billington
"There will be another inquiry into the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction"



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