Hutton washes whiter than Persil

As we awaited the outcome of Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, the expert on weaponry, there was much speculation as to whether Hutton would dare to endorse our imperialist government’s attempts to muzzle the bourgeois media to ensure no criticism is made of it that could threaten its hold on power, notwithstanding the fact that even sections of the bourgeoisie are becoming increasingly disturbed by the brazen nature of its imperialist adventures – especially the expensive and unwinnable war in Iraq. The evidence presented at the Inquiry itself, particularly by members of the secret services, demonstrated the essential correctness of the allegations of Andrew Gilligan, the BBC journalist at the heart of the affair, to the effect that the government’s pre-war claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that they could be mobilised in under 45 minutes, were completely untrue and known by the government to be so.

The Daily Mirror wrote on 29 January 2004 (‘Now it’s time for Blair to tell truth on WMD’), “There is no doubt BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan should not have said that Downing Street knowingly inserted a false claim in what was called the dodgy dossier …

“But in the first three letters of complaint from No. 10, no mention was made of that claim, which became the focus of Hutton’s report.

“The rest of Gilligan’s short broadcast was correct. He was RIGHT that the 45-minute claim was inserted late, RIGHT that there was disquiet in the intelligence communities about the dossier and RIGHT that there was an anonymous, single source for the information.

“But that lone mistake was one too many for the BBC. Even though the main thrust of the Gilligan report was correct.”

In the light of all this evidence, it was hard to see how Lord Hutton could avoid concluding (a) that the government had indeed “sexed up” the case for going to war; and (b) that the BBC was right in refusing to withdraw the allegations made in Andrew Gilligan’s report, and everybody wondered how the government would be able to survive such criticism as seemed inevitable, particularly in view of the fact that there are no obvious candidates who might at this time be able to form a credible alternative bourgeois government to that of the Labour Party. It was supposed that the way forward for the bourgeoisie would have to be to scapegoat individuals such as Geoff Hoon, or perhaps even Alastair Campbell, and leave the government relatively unscathed.

Very few imagined the massive whitewash that Hutton in the event presented, as he shamelessly ignored all the evidence before him to conclude that – although of course he claimed he was only inquiring into the causes of the suicide of David Kelly and had no remit to comment on broader questions – the government had acted almost entirely properly and the BBC totally improperly. The bourgeois press, even that section of it that most enthusiastically supports the war in Iraq, was aghast, even if most of the papers were very careful how they expressed this. However, Max Hastings in the Daily Mail (29 January 2004) was forced to say “Just as the Hutton Report washes Mr Blair and his little Downing Street cabal whiter than they deserve, so it blackens the BBC beyond any possible deserts. …

“Who seriously doubts that the BBC, for all its faults, is a great force in the struggle for truth?

“Yet today, thanks to Lord Hutton, Mr Campbell [a reference to Tony Blair’s henchman] triumphantly bestrides the prostrate form of the Corporation, humbled as never before in its history.

“This is a travesty of justice. …”

David Shayler in the Daily Express of the same date (described as a “former spy”) writes:

“When I was in MI5, officers used to discuss the endless call of liberal lefties for a full, independent inquiry into the intelligence services – as opposed, we used to joke, to a half-baked, biased inquiry. Yet with the Hutton report, that’s what we got.

“Hutton whitewashed Ministers and the intelligence services, focusing instead on BBC management practice, claiming that material which damned other organisations did not fall within his remit.

“… Hutton never really looked like he was trying to get at the truth. His standards of judicial inquiry did not meet those expected in a democracy or dictated by common sense and natural justice.

“His methods were a recipe for any officials, Ministers and intelligence officers to mislead, cover up or lie with impunity.” (‘It’s a half-baked whitewash, M’Lud’).

Edward Heathcoat Amory in the Daily Mail of 29 January spells out in some detail all the evidence that Hutton ‘overlooked’. In connection with the ‘sexing up’ of the ‘dodgy dossier’, for instance, he writes:

“The involvement of Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, in the drawing up of a Joint Intelligence Committee dossier was, says an ex-chairman of the JIC, unprecedented.

“But Hutton appeared to find it unremarkable that Campbell should have played a key role in drafting a supposedly impartial intelligence assessment. …

“In fact, this was remarkable – in particular because it assumed that Campbell had expert knowledge of the WMD situation inside Iraq.”

Further he points out:

“Hutton attacked the BBC hierarchy for allowing one of their journalists to criticise the Government on the basis of one uncorroborated report from a source. …

“His trenchant criticism of the BBC’s management and governors flowed from this assumption.

“But he was only too happy in another part of his report for the Government to make the 45 minute claim on the basis of – yes – a single uncorroborated report from within Iraq. This clear evidence of apparent double standards – Hutton always seems to believe a Government witness, but mistrusts the press on principle – pervades every part of his report.”

Hutton ‘criticism’ of government

Even Hutton’s very limited criticism of the government was a form of whitewash, for it endeavoured to strengthen the case for David Kelly having committed suicide, although, in circumstances where it was so very convenient for the government not to have him around to confirm Andrew Gilligan’s story, suspicions that he may have been dispatched by the dirty tricks brigade have inevitably arisen. Thus Hutton permitted himself some mild criticism of civil servants at the Ministry of Defence for failing to warn Kelly that his name was going to be given by the government to the press as the source of Gilligan’s information. He considered that the last-minute telephone call that Kelly received “must have been a great shock and very upsetting” – and by implication a support for the suicide theory – but even this ‘criticism’ is tempered by insistence that MoD officials had tried to help and support Dr Kelly but “because of his intensely private nature, Dr Kelly was not an easy man to help or to whom to give advice.”

Nevertheless, senior pathologists have expressed considerable concern at the suicide theory – an issue which has been mentioned in the press but has faded into the background. An letter entitled ‘Our doubts about Dr Kelly’s suicide’ by David Halpin, C Stephen Frost and Searle Sennett, however, was published in The Guardian on 27 January 2004 which makes clear how suspect the suicide theory is:

“As specialist medical professionals, we do not consider the evidence given at the Hutton inquiry has demonstrated that Dr David Kelly committed suicide.

“Dr Nicholas Hunt, the forensic pathologist at the Hutton inquiry, concluded that Dr Kelly bled to death from a self-inflicted wound to his left wrist. We view this as highly improbable. Arteries in the wrist are of matchstick thickness and severing them does not lead to life-threatening blood loss. Dr Hunt stated that the only artery that had been cut – the ulnar artery – had been completely transected. Complete transection causes the artery to quickly retract and close down, and this promotes clotting of the blood.

“The ambulance team reported that the quantity of blood at the scene was minimal and surprisingly small. It is extremely difficult to lose significant amounts of blood at a pressure below 50-60 systolic in a subject who is compensating by vasoconstricting. To have died from haemorrhage, Dr Kelly would have had to lose about five pints of blood – it is unlikely that he would have lost more than a pint.

“Alexander Allan, the forensic toxicologist at the inquiry, considered the amount ingested of Co-Proxamol insufficient to have caused death. Allan could not show that Dr Kelly had ingested the 29 tablets said to be missing from the packets found. Only a fifth of one tablet was found in his stomach. Although levels of Co-Proxamol in the blood were higher than therapeutic levels, Allan conceded that the blood level of each of the drug’s two components was less than a third of what would normally be found in a fatal overdose.

“We dispute that Dr Kelly could have died from haemorrhage or from Co-Proxamol ingestion or from both. The coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, has spoken recently of resuming the inquest into his death. If it re-opens, as in our opinion it should, a clear need exists to scrutinise more closely Dr Hunt’s conclusions as to the cause of death.” David Halpin, Specialist in trauma and orthopaedic surgery; C Stephen Frost, Specialist in diagnostic radiology; Searle Sennett, Specialist in anaesthesiology

Other specialists, namely vascular surgeon Martin Birnstingl, pathologist Dr Peter Fletcher, and consultant in public health Dr Andrew Rouse later associated themselves with the above letter.

At very least the views of these experts cast doubt on the suicide theory which almost the whole of the media accept without question – no doubt casting half an eye on what happened to Andrew Gilligan when he incurred governmental displeasure. In any event the Hutton whitewash has fortified the suicide theory still further, making it improbable that it will ever be comprehensively probed.

Hutton’s antecedents

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that when the Blair government set up the Hutton inquiry to investigate the causes of the death of Dr Kelly, it chose a judge who from his track record could be expected to come up with answers most acceptable to the government, for, as Seumas Milne remarks in the Guardian of 29 January, “Hutton’s report could scarcely have been more favourable if it had been drafted, or even sexed up, by Tony Blair’s former spinmeister Alastair Campbell himself. The prime minister certainly knew his man when he appointed the one-time Diplock court judge to head the inquiry into Dr Kelly’s death”.

Danny Morrison of Sinn Fein, writing in The Guardian of 3 February 2004 (‘My report on Lord Hutton: The judge’s ruling was no surprise. For decades in Northern Ireland he was a guardian angel of the establishment’), details his background as a skivvy of British imperialism in Northern Ireland:

“Lord Hutton and I were once very close. I sat about 10 feet from him in the witness box while he quizzed me on charges of conspiracy to murder, IRA membership and kidnapping. He eventually sentenced me to eight years in jail on the testimony of a police informer I had never met. Although in the Belfast high court Hutton occasionally acquitted republicans and dismissed the appeals of soldiers, nationalists generally considered him a hanging judge and the guardian angel of soldiers and police officers. …

“Hutton first made the news in 1973 when, representing the Ministry of Defence at the inquests into those killed on Bloody Sunday, he castigated the coroner, Major Hubert O’Neill. O’Neill had suggested that the Paras had no justification for shooting the people. Hutton told him: ‘It is not for you or the jury to express such wide-ranging views, particularly when a most eminent judge has spent 20 days hearing evidence and come to a very different conclusion.’

“Those 20 days were a reference to the seven-week-long inquiry by Lord Chief Justice Widgery into the 13 deaths in Derry that resulted in a historic miscarriage of justice, currently being re-examined by Lord Saville. Thirty years later, when it came to the inquiry into the death of one former weapons inspector, Hutton would take seven months to absolve once again those who opened fire (in Iraq) without justification.

“In 1978, he was part of the team defending Britain at the Strasbourg court against Irish government allegations that internees in 1971 were tortured. In 1981, he presided at the trial of a British soldier who ploughed at high speed into a group of people in Derry, killing two youths. Hutton advised the jury ‘to consider whether you think that perhaps unconsciously some of the witnesses . . . had a tendency somewhat to strengthen their evidence against the army’. He suggested that the driving, while reckless, might not have been unreasonable given the rioting and attempts to apprehend the rioters. The soldier was acquitted.

“He agreed with supergrass trials, and in 1984 sentenced 10 men to some of the longest sentences ever imposed, a total of 1001 years, on the word of a paid informer, Robert Quigley, who was granted immunity from prosecution.

“In 1986, he acquitted an RUC reservist, Nigel Hegarty, who was charged with unlawfully killing John Downes at a rally. When the RUC opened fire with plastic bullets on civilians at a sit-down protest, Downes picked up a small stick and was running towards two officers when Hegarty killed him from about three yards. Despite Hegarty offering no evidence, Hutton speculated that he had acted ‘probably almost instinctively’ and that, given ‘the stress of the moment and the obvious determination of the deceased’, Hegarty’s response was not unreasonable.

“In the trial of two Royal Marines charged with murdering Fergal Caraher in a shooting incident at Cullyhanna in 1990, he said he could not rely on the accounts given by the civilian witnesses for the prosecution or on those given by the accused and a fellow soldier, so he acquitted the soldiers even though he believed they might have been lying.

“And he was involved in the Brian Nelson affair. Just a week before Nelson’s trial, which almost certainly would have exposed British collusion with loyalist death squads, Hutton and the trial judge, Basil Kelly, met the then prime minister, John Major. Nelson was offered a deal to plead guilty to sample charges, which he did. He served just a few years.”

With such a track record, it seems obvious now that Lord Hutton was just the man needed to get the government out of the sticky mess in which it had landed itself over the Iraq war.

The future of the BBC

There is a surprisingly broad consensus in the press that Andrew Gilligan was guilty of slovenly reporting and that his superiors in the BBC management should at some point have done something about it. We have been unable to identify any impropriety on Andrew Gilligan’s part. He asserted that the government “probably” knew that claims about Iraq’s WMD made in the dodgy dossier were inaccurate, without being in a position to prove that this was the case, though as Peter Hitchens notes in The Mail on Sunday of 1 February: “The question of whether they actually knew they were feeding their citizens wrong information is really only an issue of whether they were (a) stupid, (b) self-deceiving, or (c) lying. None … is specially creditable”. Had we been dealing with a criminal trial, however, a judge would direct a jury to consider that people are assumed to intend the natural consequences of their actions. If one asks what could the motivation of the government have been in distorting the dossier to the point where the intelligence services were expressing their concerns about its inaccuracy, then one could only surmise that “probably” the government knew the statements were false. Be that as it may, some of the press’s willingness to go along with Hutton on the subject of the BBC’s mismanagement, is likely to be driven by self interest – the self-interest of the privately-owned profit-seeking media versus publicly-owned media more geared to providing a service to the public even if both arms are engaged in daily purveying bourgeois propaganda. Johann Hari in The Independent of 30 January explains how the outcome of the Hutton enquiry is being used to abolish publicly-owned media:

“The lurking BBC-beaters see the resignation of Dyke as another step in their slow-burn discrediting of the Beeb. One scandal after another will, they believe, tarnish the brand that is still the most trusted in Britain. One DG down and disgraced, another few to go, until privatisation has majority support. The broader argument of these anti-BBC forces is rehearsed in the Murdoch press, in line with their owner’s commercial interests, every day”.

And naturally the Murdoch press, unsurprisingly in view of the Sky Television and other broadcasting interests of their owner, published the following in a leading article in the Sunday Times of 1 February (‘Unfinished business’):

“There are wider questions about the BBC. Its determination to mix it with the commercial broadcasters, whether by all too successfully copying ITV formats or running heavily subsidised digital channels, has taken it away from its public service broadcasting ethos. The BBC’s formidable online services have again used licence-payers’ money to smother entrepreneurial activity in the new media. If the BBC wants to be so commercial, it should not do it on the back of taxpayers who have to pay up on penalty of imprisonment. …”

Clearly the privately-owned media are anxious to see the profit boost that they would expect from the dissolution of the BBC. The dismantling of the BBC they claim would enable them to produce better quality programmes as their profits would not be squeezed by ‘unfair’ competition. What is far more likely to happen is that programme standards in the independent sector will go down when they are no longer in competition with an organisation which sets reasonably high standards, as does the BBC. All television will become as mindless as the fare on offer on Sky TV, the kind of low quality fodder that fills America’s 100+ channels. Both the example of the United States, and other countries where all broadcasting media are commercial, shows and, bitter experience has taught us, that the privatised public services by and large deliver a worse service at a higher cost.


Following Hutton’s lickspittle findings, heads have been rolling at the Beeb. First, the Chairman of Governors, Davies, resigned, followed within the week by the Director General, Greg Dyke and then by Gilligan himself. The most surprising of these resignations is perhaps that of Greg Dyke who was notoriously Blairite in his views and had been engaged ever since his appointment in merrily outsourcing to private enterprise anything within the BBC that could be outsourced. Clearly, his political masters expected him to ensure that criticism of the government was kept within limits acceptable to the government and, as he had let them down on this point, all his other services counted for very little.

The lesson the bourgeois media is expected to draw from all this is: don’t criticise the government or you too – whether you are editor or journalist – will find yourselves on the dole.

While the forces of reaction strain themselves to suppress the truth by resort to every possible dirty trick at their command, the truth has this annoying habit of forcing its way through. Since the Hutton Report was published, Brian Jones, the leading government weapons expert, has given extensive interviews to the press denouncing the government for having overridden the intelligence community to produce a highly misleading ‘dossier’, and, of course, we also have the inescapable fact that after all these months no WMD have been found by the occupying forces in Iraq.

No scandal in recent years has done more to force to the attention of the British working class the rotten nature of bourgeois governments, who cannot but be rotten because they serve a decadent, putrid, anachronistic imperialist system whose continued existence spells unnecessary daily misery for millions of people all over the world and subjects all of us to the constant threat of war. These events pose starkly to the working class the need for overthrowing capitalism and establishing socialism. Let it be not too long before they rise to the challenge.

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