Lord Hutton’s report on the apparent suicide of Dr David Kelly, the MoD weapons scientist and source of a BBC News story that the Government had ‘sexed up’ intelligence reports about the threat posed to British interests by Iraq’s supposed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) in order to convince the public of the need for a military intervention in that country, was published on 28 January 2004. To considerable public disbelief, Lord Hutton held the Government’s conduct over the way in which Dr Kelly’s name became public not to be blameworthy. He also condemned the BBC’s management failures in allowing the original story to be broadcast and then not investigating the basis of the story in vigorously defending itself against equally vigorous Government complaint. (It is parenthetically worth noting that it was the Government that wanted Kelly’s name to be publicised, and the BBC that wanted to keep secret the identity of its source.) As a result of Hutton’s conclusions, the Chairman of the BBC, its Director General, and the reporter who had submitted the original story all resigned from the organisation in the days following.
During the run-up to the publication of the Hutton report, the BBC had shown an extract from an unbroadcast interview with Dr Kelly, filmed in October 2002, during which he had affirmed the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD (contrary to the position he later took in speaking ‘off the record’ to BBC journalists). The BBC also sent a transcript of this interview to Lord Hutton as he prepared his report.
The contrast between the BBC’s willingness to send unbroadcast interview material to a judicial inquiry in which its own interests were at stake, and the unwillingness of BBC Scotland to give access to similar material to the Fraser inquiry into the costs of the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood (see Nos 275, 285 and 299), has been seized upon by Lord Fraser himself, who wrote to the new acting chairman of the BBC in London on 30 January, requesting transcripts and/or tapes of the interviews relevant to his inquiry, and seeking the same level of cooperation as the BBC gave the Hutton inquiry.
Lord Fraser’s inquiry resumes its public sittings on 4 February.
The First Division of the Court of Session on 9 January 2004 refused the appeal of Lafrage Aggregates against the decision of the Scottish Ministers that the planning permission granted in 1965 for the winning and working of minerals in parts of the Lingerbay area of South Harris was largely invalid (see previously No 281). The court held that the initial grant of planning permission was valid but granted only approval in principle of the winning and working of minerals within the overall area, not throughout it; and that a subsequent approval by the planning authority of three specific areas where quarrying would be carried out further cut down the permitted winning and working to within those areas. Quarrying had been carried out in one of those areas only between 1965 and 1968. See Lafarge Aggregates Ltd v Scottish Ministers 2004 GWD 2-37. It would appear that the mountain of Roineabhal is safe for the moment; but this is probably not the end of the story (see further Nos 89 and especially 193).
Six Scottish Labour MPs were among the 72 Labour rebels who voted against a second reading for the Government’s Higher Education Bill (which will introduce so-called ‘top-up’ tuition fees for undergraduates at English & Welsh universities). The six were Michael Connarty, Tam Dalyell (framer of the West Lothian question – see No 304), Ian Davidson, Iain Luke, Christine McCafferty and Gavin Strang. The sole Conservative MP for a Scottish constituency, Peter Duncan, adhered to his decision as a Scots MP not to vote on a matter relating only to England & Wales. The Bill passed to a second reading by a majority of five.
PS Tam Dalyell’s constituency is now known as Linlithgow rather than West Lothian.
Steve Gough, the Naked Rambler, reached John o’Groats on 22 January 2004 and celebrated with a dip in the Pentland Firth, before going for a meal and a soft bed. The completion of his trek, which began in June 2003, was also marked by onlookers who took photographs and provided Gough with a shower of champagne. Gough is also planning his next steps towards overcoming what he terms people’s paranoia about their naked bodies. For the whole saga of the Naked Rambler, see Nos 242, 245, 247, 250, 263, 266, 277, 286, 287, 290 and 302.