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Focus: Who's at fault for Kelly's death?
( 2003-07-29 09:07) (China Daily)

Tony Blair intends to run for a third term, a close ally said on Sunday, but opponents said a row over the British prime minister's case for war in Iraq had ended his government's "honeymoon" with the public.

"He will stand at the next election on the basis that he will stand for a whole term," cabinet minister Lord Falconer, an old friend of Blair's, told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

But actually, Blair has tied the fate of his leadership to the outcome of the judicial inquiry into the death of the Ministry of Defence weapons specialist, David Kelly.

Kelly was found in a wooded area with a slit wrist a week ago.

The former UN weapons inspector and government scientist had found himself at the centre of the biggest political crisis for the Blair government in its six-year rule, after he gave an off-the-record briefing to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in May.

A judicial inquiry into the apparent suicide of British weapons expert David Kelly, who became entangled in a vicious controversy over the reasons for waging war on Iraq. [Reuters]
The BBC used Kelly as its main, anonymous source for an explosive report that the Blair government had hyped the case for war in Iraq by giving undue prominence to intelligence Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons within 45 minutes.

As the report dominated the wider debate over whether Blair misled the Britons in his case for war, pressure to reveal Kelly's name was growing every day - up to his death.

In the sobering aftermath, the BBC stands accused of hyping up its own report of what Kelly said and the network is fighting to defend its reputation as a benchmark for global journalism.

The government is accused of putting intolerable pressure on Kelly by pushing him forward to face a parliamentary inquiry and leaking his identity. Blair's ratings in popularity polls have plunged.

The BBC was standing firm. Its chairman, Gavyn Davies, wrote an article accusing the government of trying to destroy the publicly funded broadcaster's independence by threats to change its charter.

"We are chastised for taking a different view on editorial matters from that of the Government," he said. "Because we have had the temerity to do this, it is hinted that a system that has protected the BBC for 80 years should be swept away and replaced by an external regulator that will 'bring the BBC to heel.'"

The uproar took a darker turn last week when Kelly, later identified as the main source of the BBC story, committed suicide.

BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan wrote in a newspaper column that his source had said Alastair Campbell, Blair's powerful communications chief, insisted on publishing a claim that Iraq could deploy some chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, despite intelligence experts' doubts.

A furious Campbell denied the statement and demanded that the BBC apologize. A parliamentary committee cleared him of the charge and Kelly testified before his death that he did not believe it was true.

As Blair's communications chief, Campbell has long been a lightning rod for criticism that the prime minister's government puts spin and image over substance.

Now a furious debate over prewar claims about Iraqi weapons and the suicide of a Ministry of Defence scientist are fuelling rumours that Campbell, one of Blair's oldest and most important allies, may soon resign.

A statement from Blair's 10 Downing Street office that reports of the top aide's imminent departure were "wishful thinking" did little to quell speculation.

The BBC prompted that statement with a report that Campbell and Blair spoke last Thursday about the possibility that the aide might go, perhaps as soon as this week.

The broadcaster said the men had decided Campbell would leave his job only when he was ready, and in a way that made clear he had done nothing wrong.

BBC political editor Andrew Marr took that to mean Campbell would wait for the results of an inquiry into the death of Kelly, expected in the fall.

The Guardian newspaper reported that Blair expressed his full confidence in Campbell and said he was welcome to stay at work as long as he wants.

Blair's opponents on the left and right have bitterly criticized Campbell for years, accusing the former tabloid journalist of relentlessly spinning news about his boss with little regard for the truth.

Nonetheless, some critics have said the departure of Campbell, and perhaps Kelly's boss, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, would be the only way for Blair to move past the furor and blunt claims that his government is careless with the truth.

"How long is Blair going to let this continue?" opposition Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith demanded recently, accusing Campbell of "using the machinery of government as a personal vendetta."

"Until he sacks Campbell, nobody will believe a word he says," Duncan Smith said.

Asked by journalists if he had authorized the leak of Dr. Kelly's name, Blair said: "That's completely untrue."

Blair, who insisted he believed the government had acted properly throughout, echoed a denial made by Geoff Hoon on Saturday: "I am not aware that his name was leaked. It was certainly not leaked by me and I assure you that we made great efforts to ensure Dr. Kelly's anonymity."

The claim of both men is about to be tested by Lord Hutton, a judge leading the inquiry into Kelly's death. The government line is that it is for the inquiry to establish who said what to whom, where, and when.

But, unusually, the answers to a lot of these questions are already known. Much of the information is in the public arena, and it heavily implicates both the Ministry of Defence and Downing Street in the events that led up to the death of Dr. Kelly.

(Agencies via Xinhua)

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