by FRASER NELSON | The Scotsman | Thu 29 Jan 2004
THE real Lord Hutton has secretly been tied up in a Belfast cupboard since October and replaced by a disguised No10 operative who wrote the report over Christmas. Thus ran just one of the jokes made by delighted Labour MPs yesterday.
They carried a serious theme - yesterday’s report, which unequivocally exonerated Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell and denounced the BBC, flew in the face of everything we had come to expect from Lord Hutton.
His scrupulous, unsparing inquiry over the summer spared no-one. It exposed devastating e-mails proving that No10 officials attempted to harden up the Iraq weapons dossier. People could see Mr Blair’s case cracking right in front of them.
So how could all this have ended in a whitewash? In the summer, no-one who saw government officials squirm in front of Lord Hutton would have imagined his final report would echo No10’s arguments almost to the letter.
Stunned Conservative MPs, who had been left with almost no ammunition in the 320-page report, could not denounce Lord Hutton as they had praised him so much when he was causing misery for the government.
Others who expected at least a little criticism of Mr Blair and his ministers were just as quizzical. Was there really so little evidence with which to criticise Mr Blair and his ministers? Was Lord Hutton secretly on the Prime Minister’s side all along?
Did his history as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland leave an allegiance to the establishment whose strength had gone unnoticed until yesterday? Does he simply dislike whistle-blowers who tell journalists about the faults of employers?
Whatever the answer, it is the BBC that has felt the full force of Lord Hutton’s report. Mr Campbell is now demanding that resignations should not stop at Gavyn Davies, the chairman of its governors.
Treating the Hutton report as if it were written on Mount Sinai, Mr Campbell is now looking to claim the scalp of his old enemy, John Humphrys, the presenter of the BBC Radio Four Today programme who causes trouble for ministers so often.
Lord Hutton has given one extra element to his report which undermines his exculpations. His decision to publish every memo and e-mail puts all evidence into the public domain.
Over the past few months, the public have been able to make up their own minds. And this is a problem which Mr Blair will find far harder to deal with.
Lord Hutton’s opinion will not replace conclusions the public have already drawn.