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British Defense Minister Recalled to Inquiry Into Death of Weapons Expert - 2003-09-15

Lawyers investigating the death of British weapons expert David Kelly have recalled the country's defense secretary Geoff Hoon and others to testify in the official government inquiry.

The inquiry began its second phase, having already reached into the highest levels of Prime Minister Tony Blair's government. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon will have to return for a second time to be questioned by lawyers from the investigating commission, and others representing various people involved in the scandal.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's outgoing communications chief Alistair Campbell will also face another round of questioning.

Many analysts believe Secretary Hoon's job could be in jeopardy as a result of the scandal that has disturbed many Britons and caused Mr. Blair's approval ratings to tumble. Mr. Blair was questioned during the first phase of the inquiry, but was not called to testify again.

The public inquiry is focusing on government claims that Saddam Hussein's regime could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes. Many Britons now believe the claim was untrue and that they were misinformed by the British government during the debate over whether to go to war in Iraq.

BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, who answered questions in the first phase of the inquiry, is set to testify again Wednesday. A story by Mr. Gilligan alleging that the British government had exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq before the war will be further scrutinized.

Mr. Gilligan eventually confirmed that respected weapons expert David Kelly was the source for his story. Mr. Kelly was found dead of an apparent suicide in July, and friends say he felt betrayed and under extreme pressure when his bosses at the Defense Ministry leaked his name to the press.

The issue has caused a rift between Mr. Blair's government and the BBC over the weapons claims, as the situation in Iraq has worsened and no banned weapons have been found.

The inquiry is expected to continue for several weeks and other witnesses could be called for questioning.