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British Inquiry on Weapons Inspector's Death Adjourns - 2003-09-04

A senior British judge Thursday adjourned an inquiry into the death of a prominent weapons inspector at the center of a political dispute. The argument is over whether the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair exaggerated when it claimed Iraq could deploy banned weapons within 45 minutes. The inquiry has unearthed new questions about the process that led Britain to war with Iraq.

As the first phase of the inquest closed on Thursday, more difficult questions for Tony Blair's government were raised.

Journalist Tom Mangold, a close friend of David Kelly said the scientist and former weapons inspector told him the 45-minute claim was, as he put it, simply laughable.

Mr. Kelly, a leading weapons expert who had been to Iraq some 40 times, was found dead in July in a wooded area near his home. He was the source behind a BBC report that alleged that the British government exaggerated Iraq's weapons potential in order to make its case for war.

On Wednesday, Brian Jones, who was Mr. Kelly's boss at the Ministry of Defense, told the inquiry that he feared that assessments of the Iraqi threat were being hyped up as the 50-page document neared its final draft phase.

Mr. Jones said that a number of his colleagues were concerned about the language used in the key September report that effectively launched Britain into war. One of the worries about the 45-minute claim, he said, was that it came from a single source that relayed second-hand information.

Mr. Jones also said that his team of scientists had suggested significant changes in the wording of the report. He told the inquiry that proposed changes by his group of experts were not incorporated into what became the final version.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who testified before the committee earlier, denied his office had manipulated the intelligence report.

The inquiry into Dr. Kelly's death has plunged the British leader into the worst political crisis in his six years of power.

The inquest has now been adjourned for further analysis and to determine which witnesses will be recalled. It will reconvene on September 15.