by Chris Ames
The Daily Mail continues its campaign against Sir John Chilcot “on behalf of the families” of servicemen killed in the war with a rather shabby story about how its journalists followed him from his home to the Inquiry office, a fifteen minute walk in which Chilcot repeatedly asked the Mail to put its questions to the Inquiry’s press officer. Chilcot said, with some justification: “This is harassment.”
Last week, we learnt that Chilcot took a holiday. The Mail also revealed that some of the 29 families were threatening court to force Chilcot to name a date for publication.
But, evidently fed up with being on the wrong end of a pasting from press and politicians alike, the Inquiry, or members of it, have hit back. The Independent leads with a piece, based heavily on briefing by Inquiry sources, arguing that:
Leading figures in the British political Establishment are behind a plot to discredit the Chilcot inquiry by portraying the panel members as “bumbling incompetents” who cannot deliver their report on time[…]
“These are absurd, nasty hatchet jobs on John [Chilcot], most of them nonsense,” one inquiry source said.
“This is an independent inquiry and if forced to publish, only an incomplete report will be delivered.” The source accused Downing Street of unfairly seeking to depict Sir John’s team as “uncaring and lackadaisical idiots”.
And he accused the broader political Establishment of “throwing dirt” at the panel to tar them as a “load of bumbling incompetents and amateurs whose eventual judgements cannot be trusted”.
While the continued delay in publishing the report is indeed frustrating, of more concern is what effect it will have on the impact of the report when it finally appears. Obviously there is the concern that the Maxwellisation process, which entirely lacks transparency, will see the report watered down under threat from people who face criticism. But the other worry is that a political establishment that might not like what the Inquiry has to say will use the delay to discredit its conclusions. It is worth remembering that Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood is at the heart of the establishment and was in the thick of things in the run up to the war.
Perhaps the Daily Mail is on the wrong side of the argument here.
Also, while a number of commentators, such as Lord Lester, have suggested that Chilcot is overdoing it on Maxwellisation, the Indy’s Donald Macintyre argues that he doesn’t have much choice, while pointing out the irony that the initial High Court decision that Robert Maxwell was unfairly treated was overturned.
What both Lester and Macintyre have in common is suggesting that the way that Gordon Brown set up the Inquiry is partly responsible for delays. Lester argues in a letter to the Times that:
One reason for the inordinate delay in Chilcot’s case may be a lack of legal expertise about how to avoid being trapped by legalism and ensure that justice is not done to death.
This returns us to the Government cover-up whereby the Cabinet Office is refusing to release advice given to Brown which, the Information Commissioner points out, may explain why the Inquiry was set up without a lawyer.