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Blair under fire over Kelly death

Tebbit missed his recall because of an eye operation
Tebbit missed his recall because of an eye operation

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SPECIAL REPORT
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LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair "chaired" a meeting that decided the strategy on naming government weapons expert David Kelly, according to a senior government official.

Sir Kevin Tebbit, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, told the Hutton Inquiry Monday that at a meeting in 10 Downing Street -- Blair's office -- on July 8 it was agreed to release David Kelly's name.

"The government, rather than the Ministry of Defence, felt the need (to issue a statement)," Tebbit told the inquiry. "The decision to put out a statement was one taken by Number 10."

Kelly committed suicide after being named as the source of a report by BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan alleging that Downing Street had "sexed-up" a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The Hutton inquiry was set up by Blair to examine the circumstances surrounding his death.

The opposition Conservative Party Tebbit's evidence was "yet another damning indictment" of Blair's handling of the Kelly case. Blair has been accused of shifting his position on the naming of scientist.

"Sir Kevin has said the key decision on the naming strategy 'was taken at the meeting in Number 10'. That meeting was chaired by the prime minister. The prime minister's denials are now shown to be a sham," Michael Ancram, the Conservative's foreign secretary said.

Blair, when he gave evidence to the inquiry in August, said he was at the July 8 meeting and took full responsibility for the strategy agreed at it.

But a month earlier, during a trip to the Far East, days after Kelly's suicide, he denied authorizing Kelly's name to be made public.

Tebbit is one of many witnesses making their second appearance before the Hutton Inquiry after being recalled. He is the final witness in Hutton's inquiry.

The questioning comes despite lawyers for the various parties having already given their closing comments. Tebbit's interview was delayed from last month to allow the top defense official to receive medical treatment for an eye ailment.

Lord Hutton is expected to deliver his report on the inquiry by December.


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