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Hoon: No conspiracy to name Kelly


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start quoteIf you are implying there was some deliberate effort here to identify Dr. Kelly, I would say that is absolutely wrong.end quote
-- Geoff Hoon, UK defense secretary
SPECIAL REPORT
special report

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain's defense secretary Geoff Hoon has denied there was any "conspiracy" to name a government scientist whose death triggered a major political crisis.

David Kelly apparently killed himself in July after being named as the main source of a BBC story that said the government had exaggerated a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Hoon was questioned Wednesday at a judicial inquiry in London, chaired by Lord Hutton, about his role in the events surrounding Kelly's death.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair will give evidence.

Hoon distanced himself from key decisions which led to Kelly's name appearing in the press after the scientist came forward to say that he had had an unauthorized meeting with the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, who broke the story.

He said he had not been involved in drawing up instructions for officials in the Ministry of Defence press office telling them that they could confirm Kelly's identity if a journalist came up with the right name.

Hoon said Kelly's unauthorized meeting with Gilligan was "essentially a personnel issue" that could be handled by MoD Permanent Secretary Sir Kevin Tebbit. Hoon said he viewed it as a opportunity to crack down on leaks coming from the department.

Wider issues concerned had been a matter for other departments -- including Downing Street and the Cabinet Office -- as much as they were for the MoD, Hoon said.

"I think it was extremely important, in fairness to Dr. Kelly, not to expose him as the single source without being sure that was true. I was not sure that was true, and the prime minister was not sure that was true," he said.

"If you are implying there was some deliberate effort here to identify Dr. Kelly, I would say that is absolutely wrong. There was no effort by me or anyone in my office to do that."

Hoon said he had only named Kelly on one occasion -- to Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC governors, in a private letter.

He said that he had only known for sure that the scientist was Gilligan's source after the BBC issued a statement following Kelly's death.

"What I am resisting is any suggestion that there was some sort of conspiracy, some sort of strategy, some sort of plan covertly to make his name known. That was not the case," he said.

The inquiry had already heard that Hoon overruled advice from Tebbit to shield Kelly from a public grilling by lawmakers. Kelly was found dead three days after appearing before a parliamentary committee, apparently having slashed his wrist.

Hoon said he felt compelled to tell the committee that an official had acknowledged speaking to the journalist. He feared being accused of a cover-up if the ministry withheld that information, he said.

He also told the inquiry that in the days before his death, Kelly had been told to compile a list of his journalist contacts. "People have speculated about the impact of preparing that list on his frame of mind," said Hoon.

John Clark, a Royal Air Force wing commander who shared an office with Kelly, said the scientist had not expected to be exposed to the "full glare of the press" and had felt stressed and tired. The experience had also put pressure on his domestic life, Clark told the inquiry.

The inquiry is not a trial, but Hutton's findings could have serious repercussions for the government, which opinion polls suggest is losing voters' trust, and the BBC.


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