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Blair Spokesman Apologizes for Slur on Dead Scientist - 2003-08-05


A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized for suggesting a dead scientist at the center of a controversy over Iraq's weapons, who is to be buried Wednesday, suffered delusions of grandeur. The comments have led to calls for Mr. Blair to fire the spokesman.

The controversy over the death of British weapons scientist David Kelly has taken another strange twist, with the revelation that Prime Minister Blair's spokesman had compared him with a fictional character who leads a fantasy life.

The spokesman, Tom Kelly, issued a public apology Tuesday to the family of the dead scientist, who apparently committed suicide in mid-July and whose funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.

David Kelly was a former weapons inspector in Iraq. He died just two days after testifying before a parliamentary committee investigating whether the Blair government had exaggerated the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

After his death, the BBC identified David Kelly as the primary source for news reports in May that accused the Blair government of overstating intelligence estimates of Iraq's weapons capabilities. Mr. Blair denies the allegations.

A judicial inquiry has been opened into the circumstances surrounding David Kelly's death.

On Monday, Britain's Independent newspaper quoted an unidentified senior official who compared David Kelly with Walter Mitty, a fictional character who suffers delusions of grandeur, suggesting the scientist may have oversold the BBC on his knowledge of Iraq-related intelligence.

After his name surfaced in news reports Tuesday, Blair spokesman Tom Kelly - who is not related to the dead scientist - admitted making the comment, but insists his remarks were misinterpreted. He says he never intended to smear the reputation of the dead scientist, but was only suggesting possible lines of questioning that the judicial inquiry might take.

His comments have sparked a political furor. Former Labor Party minister and retired actress Glenda Jackson went on British radio to blast the tactics of Prime Minister Blair's Number 10 Downing Street communications office.

"It would seem that No. 10's capacity to disgust us would seem positively boundlessm" said Ms. Jackson. "We are in a situation where a man has lost his life, his family has been deprived of a husband and father and it would seem that No. 10 is determined to take away his reputation. They are unspeakable."

Ms. Jackson is among several Blair critics who are calling on the prime minister to fire his spokesman. There was no immediate reaction from Mr. Blair, who is vacationing in Barbados.

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