Inquiry designed to ‘avoid blame’, documents show

by Chris Ames

In the Observer, Jamie Doward and I reveal that the documents that the Cabinet Office fought to hard to suppress and Digest contributor Chris Lamb fought so hard to expose, show how the Inquiry was designed to avoid blame for individuals or any finding – for example on the legality of the war – that would incur legal liability for individuals or the government.

The revelation is a severe blow to the credibility of the Inquiry and goes some way to explaining why it pulled its punches and declared itself unable to reach a conclusion to the legality of the war.

The key revelation is that the ideas of learning lessons and avoiding blame were seen as two sides of the same coin. We already suspected that this was the case but it was not made clear. From the outset, Gordon Brown said that the inquiry would not “set out to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability”. However, that is very different from saying that it would avoid reaching findings that had such implications.

In fact foreign secretary David Miliband subsequently reiterated that the Inquiry had not been “set up to establish civil or criminal liability” but said: “Everything beyond that will be within its remit. It can praise or blame whomever it likes, and it is free to write its own report at every stage”. This was of course after the format, scope and membership of the inquiry had been designed to “focus on lessons and avoid blame”.

Its also clear that officials were aware of the need to avoid public controversy and saw the benefits of a behind closed doors inquiry in avoiding the daily running commentary that Hutton had attracted. What is astonishing is that neither officials nor Brown appear to have realised how totally unacceptable this would be.

The involvement in the process of setting up the Inquiry of officials who had taken part in the events it was to investigate is both shocking and unsurprising at the same time. We already knew that Margaret Aldred, the Inquiry’s secretary, had chaired the Iraq Senior Officials Group for four and a half years. What we have now learnt is that cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell was expressly warned that the secretariat should not include people with this kind of baggage.

As for the way Aldred was parachuted into the role, which we already knew was distinctly dodgy, again thanks to Chris Lamb, we know learn that she chaired the meeting that planned the appointment of the Inquiry secretariat.

Perhaps she unselfishly volunteered herself for the role?

4 comments to this article

  1. John Bone

    on November 20, 2016 at 4:28 pm -

    Congratulations to Chris and Chris for getting these documents out in the open, and for the interesting article in the Observer.

    Ironically for an Inquiry that was supposed to be a “lessons learnt” inquiry, most people would be hard-pressed to say what lessons can be learnt from the record of events; and the report does set out quite clearly how decisions were taken without adequate discussion, analysis and consideration (and who took those decisions).

  2. Chris Ames

    on November 20, 2016 at 4:46 pm -

    Thanks for your comment John. My real bugbear with Chilcot is that, having said he wouldn’t release the evidence in advance of the report because it wouldn’t mean anything without his guidance/findings, he conspicuously failed to join the dots.

  3. Lee

    on November 22, 2016 at 11:37 am -

    It is very helpful that Chris L’s perseverance has confirmed what we already knew, right from the outset. Ironically, because of his bumbling, myopic approach, Chilcot did, quite unwittingly, failed in his remit. He did expose findings that had clear implications of assigning blame and criminal liability. This isnt surprising, because the remit was impossible to deliver. It was never a feasible project.

    This was an inquiry whose results would be made public, and therefore what is most important is what the public thinks. It really doesnt matter what the establishment thinks because what it thinks is, by definition, dishonest and bum-covering. Chilcot demonstrated to the public that Blair is a liar and war criminal. (Blair demonstrates that too, every time he opens his mouth). The Chilcot commentary, that no one was to blame, is not believed by anyone. So, in establishment terms, Chilcot has been a spectacular failure.

    What everybody knows is not changed by the inability to press legal charges. These two have nothing to do with one another. The first is to do with truth and revelation. The second is limited to punishment.

    Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
    Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
    Everybody knows that the war is over
    Everybody knows the good guys lost
    Everybody knows the fight was fixed
    The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
    That’s how it goes
    Everybody knows

  4. Peter Beswick

    on November 22, 2016 at 12:06 pm -

    Yes “everybody knows” but the problem remains.

    Due to a very misguided psyop. The Mail leads the charge with the bumbling broadsheets in reserve.

    We know coppers are bent, the higher up the tree the benter they are. Politicians don’t serve the country they serve themselves. Judges when they are not satisfying their unnatural desires tow the line.

    We have all been trained in accepting the deceit, hegemony and murder as normal. There is nothing we can do! We will have to grin an bear it.

    Well that works for a while. Until ……….

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