Scott in­quiry looks at Iraq arms deal

The Guardian Weekly - - Reply -

John Ma­jor yes­ter­day an­nounced that the Iraqi arms in­quiry will not be lim­ited to the Ma­trix Churchill af­fair, but will ex­am­ine all Bri­tish arms sales to Iraq, in­clud­ing the Su­per­gun, from 1984 to the start of the Gulf War in Au­gust 1990. Lord Jus­tice Scott will also study the at­tempts by min­is­ters to block vi­tal ev­i­dence to the Ma­trix Churchill trial and the de­ci­sion by Cus­toms to pros­e­cute the com­pany and other ex­porters to Iraq.

The in­quiry will cover the pros­e­cu­tion of other busi­ness­men by Cus­toms, in­clud­ing Stu­art Black­ledge, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Ordtech mil­i­tary engi­neer­ing firm, who was given a sus­pended sen­tence this year for evad­ing ex­port con­trols. Two ma­chine tool com­pa­nies – Con­trac­tors 600 and Wick­man Ben­nett – agreed an out-of-court set­tle­ment in the sum­mer. Down­ing Street has con­firmed that the Govern­ment changed the guidelines cov­er­ing arms ex­ports to Iraq with­out an­nounce­ment in late 1988 five months af­ter the Iran-Iraq cease­fire.

Be­fore that ex­ports were banned if they would “sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance the ca­pa­bil­ity of ei­ther side to pro­long or ex­ac­er­bate the con­flict”. After­wards ex­ports were banned if they were of “di­rect and sig­nif­i­cant as­sis­tance to ei­ther coun­try in the con­duct of of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions in breach of the cease­fire”. Mr Ma­jor made clear that any at­tempt by for­mer min­is­ters to avoid giv­ing ev­i­dence to the in­quiry would be coun­tered by giv­ing the judge pow­ers to sub­poena wit­nesses.

How­ever, Men­zies Camp­bell, the Lib­eral Demo­crat de­fence spokesman, said: “If he has to go back to Down­ing Street for more pow­ers, we will end up set­ting up a new and very dif­fer­ent in­quiry from the one the Govern­ment has es­tab­lished.” The Labour leader, John Smith, ar­gued: “By re­fer­ring to the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­tend­ing the pow­ers of the in­quiry, the Govern­ment is con­ced­ing from the very be­gin­ning the cen­tral weak­ness of their own pro­pos­als – the in­abil­ity to re­quire ev­i­dence in pub­lic and on oath.”

But the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, Ni­cholas Lyell, stressed that a more pow­er­ful in­quiry un­der the 1921 Tri­bunal Act would make all is­sues sub-ju­dice. He gave as­sur­ances that in­de­pen­dent pros­e­cu­tors would “with­out fear or favour” lay charges against any­one. Patrick Win­tour and Richard Nor­ton-Tay­lor

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