Prague, 19 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A key aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair has again denied he exaggerated the weapons threat posed by Iraq in order to bolster the government's case for war.
The comments came today from Alastair Campbell, Blair's director of communications, as he testified before an enquiry into the death of government weapons expert David Kelly. Campbell is the highest-profile witness yet to testify to the enquiry, and his appearance attracted a media scrum -- as well as some antiwar hecklers.
Kelly was found last month with a slashed wrist shortly after being named as the source of a controversial BBC report claiming Blair's office had "sexed up" its September dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The reporter cited the allegedly unreliable claim that Iraq could launch chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes, and later named Campbell as the man responsible for its inclusion in the dossier.
Campbell was asked today if he had any influence on the claim's inclusion in the dossier. He answered: "None whatever.... I had no input, output, influence upon it whatever at any stage in the process." In fact, he said, he had tried to tone down the dossier, saying the language used was too colorful.
Campbell also said he did not know the origin of the claim, other than that it was from the body in charge of drawing up the dossier, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).
Campbell also said he was unaware at the time of any unhappiness among the intelligence services about the information in the dossier. Last week, a defense official told the enquiry that two intelligence officers had written to express concern about the way the dossier was worded.
The proceedings of the enquiry -- conducted under senior judge Brian Hutton -- cannot be broadcast. But Campbell's reported comments today echo his testimony at an earlier parliamentary enquiry into the government's use of intelligence in the run-up to war. "That is completely and totally untrue, that I in any way overrode that judgment [of the JIC], sought to exaggerate that intelligence, sought to use it in any way that the intelligence agencies weren't 100 percent content with," he said.
Campbell's boss, Prime Minister Blair, is set to testify to the enquiry at a later stage. Recent surveys show the affair has damaged the reputation of his government -- and that of the BBC. A poll in "The Guardian" today shows 52 percent trust neither the BBC nor the government.