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Heat for Hoon as Commons prepares to quiz him on Kelly

08 September 2003

Geoff Hoon will come under intense pressure today over his role in the affair of David Kelly's death as MPs return to Parliament after their summer break. The Secretary of State for Defence, who was present for a meeting at which the policy of naming Dr Kelly was approved, is expected to face angry questions from MPs over the strategy.

He will be forced to confront MPs at the dispatch box today and will face a call from the Tories for a formal statement on the situation in Iraq and the decision to send British troops to that country from Cyprus.

Mr Hoon is expected to find a hostile response from MPs, including Labour MPs who think his credibility has been damaged by the Kelly affair. They believe he should have done more to protect the expert on weapons of mass destruction.

One loyalist Labour MP said Mr Hoon could not expect the same backbench support as previous ministers who have been in trouble because he is seen as an "aloof" character who does not care what backbenchers think.

"We are waiting for the defenestration of Mr Hoon. He is not going to get our support like Byers did. Basically, Byers was a nice guy who was prepared to take on Railtrack. You never see anything of Hoon and he's pretty aloof and has some serious questions to answer over Kelly," the MP said.

Mr Hoon may try to fend off damaging questions by arguing that he cannot comment on the events leading to the death of Dr Kelly while the Hutton inquiry is hearing evidence.

One of Mr Hoon's closest political aides admitted last week that Mr Hoon was present at a meeting in his office when there was a discussion about revealing the scientist's identity to the press. Mr Hoon implied in his evidence to the inquiry he was not involved in any discussions.

The Hutton inquiry, entering its fifth week, could also hear evidence this week from an American spy, a friend and former colleague of Dr Kelly, who, it emerged yesterday, has been questioned by officials investigating his death. Sgt Mai Pederson, a spy for the US air force and a member of the Baha'i faith, who introduced Dr Kelly to its teachings, served with him on UN weapons inspection teams in Iraq in 1998.

The Government's critics also stepped up their attacks. Clare Short, who resigned as International Development Secretary, accused Tony Blair of flouting "proper procedure" and "a willingness to be economical with the actuality". Ms Short said the Kelly affair exposed "a disease that has corroded the integrity of the Blair government".

* A poll by Populus for today's Times shows Labour's lead up five percentage points on a month ago, at 39 per cent, with the Conservatives two points up at 34 per cent. The Liberal Democrats, at 19 per cent, are down six points.

Source: The Independent

©Copyright 2003, The Belfast Telegraph (Northern Ireland)

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