Despite playing a central role in producing the notorious dossier on Iraq’s non-existent WMD’s, Sir John Scarlett, (MI6 chief from 2004- 2009) was involved in setting up the Chilcot Inquiry (Photo: Chatham House/Creative Commons)
Papers disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war was set up by people who played a central role in the war effort. The Cabinet Office lost a two-year battle with Chris Lamb, a freedom of information campaigner from Bristol, to disclose the documents, because apparently, disclosure would “undermine the inquiry”. The papers also reveal that the Inquiry was designed to avoid blame and any prosecutions.
The documents were a series of memos by Whitehall officials over a four-week period in May and June 2009. They revealed that Lord Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary under Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, went against Whitehall protocol when he appointed Margaret Aldred, a civil servant with significant involvement in Iraq policy during the war, to take on the key role of inquiry secretary.
Another conflict of interest came in the form of Sir John Scarlett, chief of MI6 from 2004 to 2009, who was involved in setting up the Inquiry. This was despite the fact he played a central role in producing the notorious dossier on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Others who helped design the inquiry, but who are also implicated in the war effort include current Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who was Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s Parliamentary Private Secretary until 2003.
The memos also reveal that O’Donnell advised against appointing judges or lawyers who would adopt a “legalistic” focus. He recommended using the inquiry’s terms of reference to prevent it reaching “any conclusion on questions of law or fact, which create circumstances which expose organisations, departments and/or individuals to criminal or civil proceedings or judicial review”.
In a memo, to O’Donnell, Cabinet Office official Ben Lyon advised that the scope of the inquiry could be designed to “focus on lessons and avoid blame”. However, other politicians and parties, including Plaid Cymru and the SNP, sought other types of inquiry with some advocating “a full public inquiry that would place blame on individuals”.
Chris Lamb told The Observer: “This shows the inquiry was hobbled before it even started, with tight restrictions on what it could do that were not fully made public.”
From the outset, officials favoured a secret inquiry to be conducted by privy counsellors, based on the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war. In a note to Gordon Brown, O’Donnell warned against a full public inquiry for reasons such as money. He also said that it would “threaten legal liability for individuals” and “take a long time”. Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, said: “The deliberate lack of transparency and attempts to use price to justify further secrecy is deeply concerning.”
The Chilcot Inquiry looks into almost a decade of UK Government policy decisions between 2001 and 2009. The 2.6 million word report released in July covers the background to the decision to go to war, whether troops were properly prepared, how the conflict was conducted and what planning there was for its aftermath.