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Newspapers slam 'not me' Hoon

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start quoteIt wasn't me ... it was No. 10, Alastair Campbell, Blair's chief of staff, the civil service, my secretary, MI6, some bloke down the pub and anyone else I can think of. end quote
-- Daily Mirror on Hoon
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain's newspapers have been divided in their coverage of the inquiry into the death of weapons expert David Kelly -- many siding with the government of Tony Blair, others siding with the BBC.

But on Thursday they were united in scorn for the performance in the witness box of Kelly's boss, defense secretary Geoff Hoon, who appeared to blame everyone else but himself for the affair.

"It wasn't me," said a front page headline in the Daily Mirror. "It was No. 10, Alastair Campbell, Blair's chief of staff, the civil service, my secretary, MI6, some bloke down the pub and anyone else I can think of."

Hoon, 49, spent more than two hours being questioned at Lord Hutton's inquiry in London Wednesday over events leading up to the apparent suicide of Kelly, 59, who worked in his department. (Full story)

The defense secretary denied that he had been involved in preparing a controversial dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or had been involved in the public naming of Kelly as a "mole" for a BBC story criticizing the government.

The lead department in that was Prime Minister Tony Blair's office at No.10 Downing Street, he said in evidence. CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said that Blair would not be helped during his appearance on Thursday by Hoon's performance. (Blair faces inquiry)

The Daily Mail called him "secretary for self-defense," described him as "wriggling on the hook" and said: "If HE didn't know what was going on, who did?"

Calling him Britain's "hapless defense chief" the Mail said he "attempted the most brazen escape in political history by laying responsibility for the events leading to David Kelly's death firmly at the door of 10 Downing Street."

The Guardian carried the headline: "Hoon: don't blame me" and likened his evidence to a game of "pass the parcel."

The Financial Times said Hoon had laid the blame at the door of No. 10 and his own staff in "an extraordinary defense of his own conduct that will be seen as a last ditch bid to save his career."

"What is Hoon for?" asked The Daily Telegraph in an editorial.

"Listening to Geoff Hoon giving evidence at the Hutton inquiry, one would have some difficulty deducing precisely what his function in government was.

"What exactly are the responsibilities and duties of a Cabinet minister who is apparently powerless over decisions that involve his department and out of touch with the procedures of his own press office?"

The Sun, Britain's Rupert Murdoch-owned top-selling daily tabloid, which has solidly backed Blair and his communications chief, Alastair Campbell, in the affair, carried an editorial headed: "No defense."

"Geoff Hoon tap danced on the head of a pin yesterday to show that his hands were clean in the Kelly affair.

"He knew nothing, ordered nothing, said nothing and was told nothing, so how could he be in the frame?

"Perhaps the defense secretary knew so little because of his unhappy knack of always being on holiday when things get sticky.

"And when the dust finally settles on the Kelly inquiry, he might find himself on another holiday -- a permanent one."

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