Tribunal orders government to release secret dossier

The New Statesman reports that the Information Tribunal has ordered the Foreign Office to release the secret draft of the Iraq WMD dossier written by "a former top spin doctor".

This could cast doubt over the government’s claim that the document played no part in the production of the dossier.

The September 2002 dossier formed part of the government’s case for war in Iraq. The draft in question was produced by John Williams, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) Head of News at the time. Its existence questioned the government’s assertion, to the Hutton and Butler inquiries, that the dossier was the work of the intelligence services.

However, the Tribunal has allowed a handwritten note to be redacted which the Foreign Office claimed would be damaging to international relations.

The FCO has said that it is studying the Tribunal decision and declined to name the authors of the handwritten comments.

The secret draft was written by John Williams, the FCO’s then director of communications, on 7 and 8 September 2002, just days after Tony Blair announced that the government would publish a dossier of intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein threatened the world with his weapons of mass destruction.

It preceded what the government would later claim to be the first draft, written by Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett on 10 September.

The dossier was finally published on 24 September 2002, two weeks after Scarlett’s “first draft”, and was central to the case it made to Parliament for war in Iraq.

Responding to the Information Tribunal decision, Conservative MP John Baron said: "This decision lifts the lid on government efforts to cover-up the role played by spin doctors in producing the Iraq Dossier.

"I am now pressing the Foreign Secretary immediately to make public the Williams draft, so that we can assess for ourselves the significance of this document in the run up to war – a war which we should never had been party to.

"The Tribunal agrees that the Williams draft could have played a greater part in influencing the drafting of the dossier than the Government has so far admitted - even to the Hutton Inquiry. The Government cannot hide this document any longer."

'Release dossier', ministry told: Chris Ames explains the significance of the decision to force the Foreign Office to release the secret draft of the Iraq WMD dossier (New Statesman, 23 January 2008)

See also: Another NS victory (New Statesman, 23 January 2008)