Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Hutton Inquiry was a British judicial inquiry chaired by Lord Hutton, appointed by the British government to investigate the death of a government weapons expert, Dr. David Kelly. The inquiry opened in August 2003 and reported on January 28, 2004. Its terms of reference were to "urgently [...] conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly".
In his report, Hutton began by saying that he was "satisfied that Dr Kelly took his own life". He then concluded that the British Broadcasting Corporation's allegations that the government had knowingly "sexed up" a report into Iraq's weapons of mass destruction — the "September Dossier" — were unfounded. The inquiry's findings prompted the immediate resignation of the BBC's chairman, Gavyn Davies, its Director General (chief executive) Greg Dyke, and the journalist at the centre of the allegations, Andrew Gilligan.
Lord Hutton retired as a Law Lord following the report's publication.
Kelly had been the source for reports made by three BBC journalists that the Government, particularly the press office of Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, had knowingly embellished the dossier with misleading exaggerations of Iraq's military capabilities. These were reported by Andrew Gilligan on BBC Radio 4's The Today programme on May 29 2003, by Gavin Hewitt on the Ten O'Clock News the same day and by Susan Watts on BBC Two's Newsnight on June 2. On June 1 Gilligan repeated his allegations in an article written for the Mail on Sunday, naming government press secretary Alastair Campbell as the driving force for alteration of the dossier.
The Government angrily denounced the reports and accused the corporation of poor journalism. In subsequent weeks the corporation stood by the report, saying that it had a reliable source. Following intense media speculation, Kelly was finally named in the press as the source for Gilligan's story on July 9. Kelly apparently committed suicide in a field close to his home on July 17 (although this will not be officially confirmed until a coroner's report is released). An inquiry was announced by the British government the following day. The inquiry was to investigate whether the Government had indeed "sexed-up" the report or, if not, uncover why it had been claimed that it did.
The inquiry opened on August 1. Hearings began on August 11. The first phase of the inquiry closed on September 4. A second session of witness-calling began on Monday September 15, where some witnesses from the first session, such as Andrew Gilligan, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and Alastair Campbell were recalled for further questions arising from the first phase, and some witnesses were called for the first time. The taking of evidence closed on Wednesday September 24. The inquiry heard evidence on 22 days, lasting 110 hours, from 74 witnesses. Examination and cross-examination came from five Queen's Counsels, representing the Inquiry, the Government, the BBC, the Kelly family and Andrew Gilligan.
Hutton initially announced that he expected to be able to deliver his report in late November or early December. The report was eventually published on January 28, 2004. It ran to 750 pages in 13 chapters and 18 appendices, though this was mainly comprised of excerpts from the hundreds of documents (letters, emails, transcripts of conversation, and so on) that were published during the inquiry. The main conclusions were:
- Hutton was "satisfied that Dr. Kelly took his own life"
- There was "no underhand [government] strategy" to name him as the source for the BBC's accusations
- Gilligan's original accusation was "unfounded" and the BBC's editorial and management processes were "defective"
- The dossier had not been "sexed up", but was in line with available intelligence, although the Joint Intelligence Committee, chaired by John Scarlett, may have been "subconsciously influenced" by the government
- The Ministry of Defence (MOD) was at fault for not informing Kelly of their strategy that would involve naming him
The report exonerated the Government much more completely than had been expected by many observers prior to its publication. Evidence presented to the inquiry had indicated:
- That the wording of the dossier had been altered to present the strongest possible case for war within the bounds of available intelligence
- That some of these changes had been suggested by Alastair Campbell
- That reservations had been expressed by experts within the Intelligence Community about the wording of the dossier
- That David Kelly had direct contact with the dissenters within the Defence Intelligence Staff and had communicated their reservations (and his own) to several journalists.
- That, following Kelly's decision to come forward as one of Gilligan's contacts, Alastair Campbell and Geoff Hoon had wanted his identity made public
- That the Prime Minister himself had chaired a meeting at which it was decided that Dr Kelly's name would be confirmed by the Ministry of Defence if put to them by journalists
- That Kelly's name had been confirmed after journalists had made multiple suggestions to the MOD press office.
Despite this evidence the government was largely cleared of any wrongdoing by Hutton. In large measure this was because evidence to the Inquiry indicated that the government had not known of the reservations in the intelligence community: it seemed they had been discounted by senior intelligence assessors (the Joint Intelligence Committee) — thus Gilligan's claim that the government "probably knew" the intelligence was flawed, was itself unfounded. Furthermore, the Inquiry had heard that these were not the words used by Gilligan's source, but his own inference. Meanwhile, Hutton determined that any failure of intelligence assessment fell outside his remit, and the Intelligence Services thus also escaped censure.
Instead the report placed a great deal of emphasis on evidence of the failings of Gilligan and the BBC, many of which had been explicitly acknowledged during the course of the Inquiry. In particular, it specifically criticised the chain of management that caused the BBC to defend its story. The BBC management, the report said, had accepted Gilligan's word that his story was accurate, rather than check Gilligan's records more thoroughly.
Davies had then told the BBC Board of Governors that he was happy with the story, and told the Prime Minister that a satisfactory internal inquiry had taken place. The Board of Governors, under Davies' guidance, accepted that further investigation of the Government's complaints were unnecessary. In his report Hutton wrote of this:
- The Governors should have recognised more fully than they did that their duty to protect the independence of the BBC was not incompatible with giving proper consideration to whether there was validity in the Government's complaints, no matter how strongly worded by Mr Campbell, that the allegations against its integrity reported in Mr Gilligan's broadcasts were unfounded and the Governors failed to give this issue proper consideration.
Immediate aftermath of publication
It was because of the report's criticism of his actions that Davies resigned on the day of publication, January 28. Reporters from rival news organisation ITN described the day of publication as "one of the worst in the BBC's history". Greg Dyke resigned two days after the publication of the report, following a meeting of BBC Governors where it is reported he only retained the support of one third of the board. However, after announcing his resignation, Dyke stated:
- I do not necessarily accept the findings of Lord Hutton. 
Andrew Gilligan resigned because of his part in the affair on January 30, making three BBC resignations in three days. However, in his resignation statement he questioned the value of Hutton's report:
- This report casts a chill over all journalism, not just the BBC's. It seeks to hold reporters, with all the difficulties they face, to a standard that it does not appear to demand of, for instance, Government dossiers. 
|Gavyn Davies||Greg Dyke||Andrew Gilligan|
Blair, who had been repeatedly under fire for the "sexing-up" allegations, told the House of Commons in the debate following the release of the report that he had been completely exonerated. He demanded a retraction from those who had accused him of lying to the House, particularly Michael Howard, the Leader of the Opposition:
- The allegation that I or anyone else lied to this House or deliberately misled the country by falsifying intelligence on WMD is itself the real lie. And I simply ask that those that made it and those who have repeated it over all these months, now withdraw it, fully, openly and clearly. 
Howard sidestepped the demand for an apology. However, immediately after the Board of Governors had accepted Dyke's resignation Lord Ryder, as Acting Chairman of the BBC (Davis's replacement), apologised "unreservedly" for errors made during the Dr David Kelly affair. Dyke, who has not given the conclusions of the Hutton report his full backing said that he "could not quite work out" what the BBC was apologising for. The Independent subsequently reported that the BBC governors had ignored the advice of BBC lawyers that the Hutton report was "legally flawed", although this was denied by the BBC.
Deliberately or otherwise, Dr. Kelly had raised wider questions about the quality, interpretation and presentation of intelligence that Hutton had left unanswered. Some of these are to be addressed in a new inquiry, announced by the government on February 3 2004.
At the end of the report Hutton recalled how the final part of David Kelly's life had not been representative of his whole career in the civil service:
- The evidence at this Inquiry has concentrated largely on the last two months of Dr Kelly's life, and therefore it is fitting that I should end this report with some words written in Dr Kelly's obituary in The Independent on 31 July by Mr Terence Taylor, the President and Executive Director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Washington DC and a former colleague of Dr Kelly: "It is most important that the extraordinary public attention and political fallout arising from the events of the past month do not mask the extraordinary achievements of a scientist who loyally served not only his Government but also the international community at large."
Leaking of the report prior to publication
The report was leaked by an unknown party to The Sun the night before the official publication date. The Sun and consequently most other newspapers in their later editions ran with the leaked version of the report. Delivered by an unnamed source over the telephone to Sun Political Editor Trevor Kavanagh, the leaked version accurately described the report's main findings. All sides involved in the Inquiry denounced the leak. Lord Hutton launched an further inquiry into how the report came to be leaked. This second inquiry, carried out by a solicitor, reported on 11th August 2004, but failed to find the source of the link. It also said there were "no particular weaknesses" in the security of the report and so offered no suggestions of how a similar leak might be prevented in the future.
Media reaction to the report
Several national newspapers judged the report to be so uncritical of the Government that they accused Hutton of participating in an "establishment whitewash". The right-wing Daily Mail wrote in its editorial "We're faced with the wretched spectacle of the BBC chairman resigning while Alastair Campbell crows from the summit of his dunghill. Does this verdict, my lord, serve the real interest of truth?". The Independent included a large, mostly empty, white space above the fold on its front page containing just the word "whitewash?" in small red type.
The Daily Express headline read "Hutton's whitewash leaves questions unanswered" — referring to the fact that an investigation into Britain's reasons for joining the war in Iraq was beyond the scope of the inquiry. None of the newspapers presented evidence of a cover-up, but they questioned whether the conclusions were supported by the evidence.
Other newspapers such as The Times, The Sun (both owned by News Corporation and usually critical of the BBC) and The Daily Telegraph concentrated on the behaviour of the BBC criticised in the report and called for Greg Dyke to resign, as he did later that day (January 29).
In assessing the media response to the Hutton report, it needs to be remembered that most British newspapers are highly partisan in their editorial policies. The reactions of papers supportive of the Conservative Party, such as The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, in part reflected the Conservatives' disappointment that the report did not find that Blair had misled the House of Commons or the public, which might have precipitated his resignation.
On the other hand, left-wing newspapers such as The Guardian and The Daily Mirror, while supporting Blair against the Conservatives, strongly opposed British participation in the war in Iraq, and sympathised with what they (and many others) saw as the anti-war stance of BBC journalists such as Gilligan. While they probably did not want Blair forced from office, they would have welcomed a finding that Alastair Campbell had falsified the September Dossier.
As Martin Kettle wrote in The Guardian on February 3: "Too many newspapers invested too heavily in a particular preferred outcome on these key points. They wanted the government found guilty on the dossier and on the naming, and they wanted Gilligan's reporting vindicated. When Hutton drew opposite conclusions, they damned his findings as perverse and his report as a whitewash. But the report's weakness was its narrowness, and to some extent its unworldliness, not the accuracy of its verdicts."
Thousands of BBC workers paid for a full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph on January 31 in order to publish a message of support for Dyke, followed by a list of their names. The message read:
- The following statement is from BBC employees, presenters, reporters and contributors. It was paid for by them personally, not the BBC itself.
- Greg Dyke stood for brave, independent BBC journalism that was fearless in its search for the truth. We are resolute that the BBC should not step back from its determination to investigate the facts in pursuit of the truth. Through his passion and integrity Greg Dyke inspired us to make programmes of the highest quality and creativity. We are dismayed by Greg's departure, but we are determined to maintain his achievements and his vision for an independent organisation that serves the public above all else.
An ICM public opinion poll, commissioned by the News of the World and published on February 1 2004, showed that 54% of respondents believed Tony Blair's reputation had deteriorated. Only 14% thought his status had improved after being vindicated in the report.
In some countries the reputation of the BBC in fact improved as a result of its attacks on the British government during the Dr David Kelly affair. The BBC is sometimes viewed, especially outside the UK, as a puppet of the government. The BBC's willingness so publicly to accuse the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defence of wrongdoing, despite the mistakes the BBC itself acknowledged it had made, boosted its credentials as an impartial and unbiased news source.
Hutton himself defended the report, speaking before a Commons select committee on May 14 2004. He stated he had not thought it appropriate to embark on a study of the pre-war intelligence: "I had to draw the line somewhere." He felt the allegations against Gilligan were "far graver" than questions concerning the quality of the intelligence, and that it was right that a separate inquiry, the Butler Review, was being conducted. 
- The Hutton Report (PDF), published as ISBN 0102927154.
- The official site of the Hutton Inquiry, carrying a full transcript of proceedings.
- Unofficial site (www.hutton.softblade.com) with improved navigation (including search tools), more readable transcripts and cross-references to evidence. Automatically updated as new information is released.
- BBC News "In Depth" feature on the inquiry
- Guardian Special Report on the Hutton Report and the media
- Agencie France Presse report on media reaction
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