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Hutton and the Williams draft

Martin Rosenbaum | 11:40 UK time, Wednesday, 23 January 2008

It was almost exactly four years ago when along with a few BBC colleagues I sat in an isolated room in Broadcasting House, denied all contact with the outside world, as we studied - gobsmacked - the advance text of the Hutton Inquiry report which had been provided to the BBC the day before publication.

I had been seconded from my job as a BBC journalist to work with BBC management on the inquiry, spending many weeks involved in meticulous scrutiny of consistencies and inconsistencies between all the accounts of who said what where when and why. I didn't expect Lord Hutton's conclusion, I didn't expect the resignations that followed, and I didn't expect that four years later the Freedom of Information Act might lead to disclosure of further documents which would allow another burst of such scrutiny for those of us who remain interested.

But this last development now looks increasingly likely, as the Information Tribunal has just ruled that the Foreign Office should reveal what has become known as the 'Williams draft' of the famous dossier on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction - a draft written by press officer John Williams which may or may not have influenced the final version. This document was not amongst the voluminous documentation provided to and published by the Hutton Inquiry. Its disclosure may shed further light on the extent or otherwise of the role played by press officers in formulating a publication based on intelligence material.

This document was requested from the Foreign Office by the researcher Chris Ames, who has conducted a persistent campaign for its release. As the only 'member of the public' present at the Tribunal hearing which dealt with the case he initiated, Ames had to shuffle in and out as the Tribunal moved between open and closed sessions while discussing the confidential material.

The Tribunal's decision is notable for a couple of points:

The Tribunal was clearly dissatisfied with the Foreign Office for being 'unable or unwilling' to provide a witness who was personally involved in events at the time, as the witness they did supply was unable to explain numerous discrepancies.

The Tribunal did decide (for confidential reasons) that one 'manuscript annotation' on the draft should not be made public, saying that this should be redacted while the rest is disclosed. This demonstrates that the Tribunal will not allow the fact that a document contains some material whose publication it regards as detrimental to the public interest to prevent the disclosure of other parts of the document.

It is not yet clear whether the Foreign Office will now comply or appeal against the judgment to the High Court.

Comments   Post your comment

"...will not allow the fact that a document contains some material whose publication it regards as detrimental to the public interest to prevent the disclosure of other parts of the document..."

Common sense, from a government body, I demand a resignation!

  • 2.
  • At 08:20 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • M A Christie wrote:

I have always considered Hutton to be an excellent user of B&Q’s Brilliant White paint in MATT, (None reflecting of course)

  • 3.
  • At 10:42 PM on 23 Jan 2008,
  • Pat B wrote:

I have never seen anything in the UK press commenting on the book "Sadaam's Secrets" by Georges Sada. In it he tells us that there were WMDs and where and how they were moved.
Did I miss the debate or didn't it happen?

  • 4.
  • At 04:52 PM on 18 Feb 2008,
  • Curiousman wrote:

Perhaps we and the government can learn a little from this rather sad affair:
1) Scientific Civil Servants should never be exposed to the press like poor David Kelly
2) The top dogs always get away with it (wish I could name those who I think were guilty)
3) Never trust your boss.

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