Mon 4 Aug 2003
Hoon under fire for jetting off to US as Kelly is buried
FRASER NELSON POLITICAL EDITOR
GEOFF Hoon was at the centre of a fresh controversy over the suicide of Dr David Kelly yesterday as it emerged that he will not be attending the funeral, preferring to go on holiday.
The Defence Secretary is to embark on a family holiday to the United States this week - in spite of warnings from Cabinet colleagues that the move could be seen as insensitive.
His absence has intensified speculation that he will soon be sacked as the main government sacrifice in the fallout of Dr Kelly’s death, after repeatedly showing a lack of political judgment.
The Ministry of Defence yesterday confirmed that Mr Hoon will not be attending the funeral of Dr Kelly - and that John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, will be representing the government. Mr Prescott, who has been defending the government since Mr Blair left for the Caribbean, came out in support of Mr Hoon yesterday saying that there was no need for them both to attend the funeral.
"Everyone has to have their holidays. The funeral will be on Wednesday, I will be attending on behalf of the government and I think we should leave those comments there," he told BBC1’s Breakfast with Frost resprogramme.
The MoD suggested that Mr Hoon’s decision not to attend had been taken with the blessing of Janice Kelly, Dr Kelly’s widow.
"He is not going to the funeral, because after discussions with Mrs Kelly it was deemed most appropriate that the government be represented at the funeral by the Deputy Prime Minister," a spokeswoman said.
Several MoD staff are likely to attend the funeral, mainly friends and colleagues of Dr Kelly who worked with him trying to establish the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
MoD officials are likely to be called in front of the Hutton inquiry, which is expected to start its investigation by asking the BBC to lay out its version of events - and explain exactly what Dr Kelly said in his off-the-record discussion.
The BBC has said that the conversation between Dr Kelly and Andrew Gilligan, its defence correspondent, was the basis for its report saying that the dossier released last September was "sexed up".
Since the story was first broadcast, ten weeks ago, Mr Hoon has made a series of blunders - denying that he had authorised his officials to "out" Dr Kelly as the self-confessed mole in the days before his death. He was instantly contradicted by his staff, who said they confirmed Dr Kelly’s name to journalists who called up and put it to him directly.
This policy, it has now emerged, was devised under Mr Hoon’s supervision.
Days later, Mr Hoon was seen at the British Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone while the post-mortem examination on Dr Kelly was still being conducted.
This was regarded by his colleagues as gauche.
This was followed two weeks ago by an unannounced appearance at a Foreign Office press conference, where he refused to answer questions and diverted attention from the reconstruction of Iraq.
Mr Hoon is not highly regarded by Mr Blair, who has taken his advice on foreign affairs from Sir David Manning, his Downing Street adviser. The Prime Minister also talks directly to generals about defence.
His resignation would be a small sacrifice for Mr Blair, who is understood to have considered sacking Mr Hoon at the last Cabinet reshuffle.
While he is now almost certain to go, his lack of credibility suggests it may not be enough.
Signs of turmoil at the MoD are also starting to appear - suggesting that, under Mr Hoon, it is heading for the same sort of dysfunctionality seen at the Department of Transport under Stephen Byers.
The MoD was yesterday forced to deny a report that officials had tried to incinerate a "media plan" about Dr Kelly three days after his death.
However, a spokeswoman did confirm that there had been a "security breach" in which confidential waste documents had been left out when they should have been secured.
The episode itself is understood to have sent alarm bells ringing in other government departments, as a sign of sloppiness which may well be in evidence in other
layers of the MoD.
©Copyright 2003, The Scotsman (UK)
Following is the URL to the original story. The site may have removed or archived this story. URL: http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/politics.cfm?id=839862003