Beckett's comments re-ignite 45-minute controversy

Margaret Beckett's comments re-ignited the controversy over the 45-minute claim
Margaret Beckett's comments re-ignited the controversy over the 45-minute claim

Foreign secretary Margaret Beckett has re-ignited the controversy surrounding the claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction inside 45 minutes.

The claim was included in the government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which formed a large part of the case for war against the Middle Eastern state.

However, yesterday Ms Beckett said ministers realised the 45-minute claim was probably wrong ahead of the 2003 invasion.

But she added that the claim was of "little relevance" and used only once.

"[The 45 minute claim] was a statement that was made once and it was thought to be of such little relevance, perhaps people began quickly to think 'I am not sure about that'. It was never used once in all the debates and questions in the House of Commons," she said on Today.

She added: "Nobody thought it was relevant. Nobody thought it was actually at the heart of the debate."

And opposition parties have rounded on Ms Beckett's statements yesterday.

"If it is true that the 45-minute claim had been discounted before the invasion, it is appalling that there seems to have been no effort or coordination between ministers to put the record straight," said shadow foreign secretary William Hague.

"This is yet another reason to dismantle Tony Blair's sofa policy-making and restore Cabinet government."

The information that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of the order to deploy being given was contained in the government's infamous September 2002 dossier making the case for war.

Prime minister Tony Blair then repeated the claim, and several national newspapers carried the information as front page news.

But questions were raised after the BBC's Andrew Gilligan reported that the 2002 dossier had been "sexed up" by the inclusion of the 45-minure claim.

This report led to a row between the government and the BBC culminating in the suicide of government scientist David Kelly.

Lord Hutton was charged by Tony Blair to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly on July 17th 2003, and published his conclusions in January 2004.

His report found that the joint intelligence committee had backed the 45-minute claim and he concluded the dossier was not "sexed-up", although he said Downing Street wanted it to make a strong case against Saddam.

He criticised the Ministry of Defence for failing to help and protect Dr Kelly, in particular for not telling him first that his name would be confirmed if a journalist asked, and for failing to inform him that his identity had been made public until an hour and a half after the event.


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.