British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared at the Royal Courts of Justice today to give evidence in the enquiry into the death of weapons expert David Kelly. Yesterday, appearing before the enquiry, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, who was expected to be the "fall guy" in the affair, shifted much of the blame back onto Blair's office.
Prague, 28 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The enquiry in London into the apparent suicide of weapons expert David Kelly heard evidence today from its star witness, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Blair was greeted at the Royal Courts of Justice by a crowd of several dozen anti-war protesters. They held placards brandishing him a war criminal: "Tony Blair -- wanted for murder! Tony Blair -- wanted for murder!"
The enquiry is looking into the circumstances surrounding the death last month of Kelly, who was named as the likely source of a BBC report the government had "sexed up" its September dossier on Iraqi weapons -- a report that sparked a fierce row between the government and the broadcaster.
Blair was quizzed today on two key issues: what role he played in publicly identifying Kelly as the BBC's source. And how the government prepared the dossier and made its case for war.
Blair said that the allegations in the BBC report were "absurd" and so serious that, if true, he would have had to resign.
And he said the dossier was not making the case for war. "It was," he said, "to respond to calls to disclose intelligence" on Iraq.
He also said there had been no political interference in the process of drafting the dossier. That, he said, was all the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee -- including the contentious claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.
And he said he had "no knowledge" of Kelly's involvement in drawing up the dossier.
Blair was then quizzed on his role in publicly identifying the scientist David Kelly. He took full responsibility for the decision to make public the fact that someone had come forward owning up to an interview with the BBC.
But it's still unclear as to who was ultimately responsible for revealing Kelly's name -- a move that led to the scientist facing tough questioning in parliament over the government's case for war and possibly contributed to his apparent suicide just days later.
Today was always going to be a tough day for Blair. The affair has put a severe dent in the government's trust ratings, with polls now showing a majority believe they were misled over the reasons for war.
But it was made even harder by testimony from yesterday's main witness, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.
Hoon had been seen as the likely "fall guy" for the government as it was assumed he was the one responsible for deciding to make Kelly's name public.
However, Hoon yesterday shifted much of the blame back to Blair's office, saying many of the key decisions regarding Kelly were taken by officials in Downing Street.
Blair today said he was aware Downing Street officials had helped draft the Defence Ministry press office statement revealing someone had come forward.
But he spoke only of a "general view" that it was right not to volunteer Kelly's name, but confirm it to those who guessed it.