The Government has made a final submission to Lord Hutton in an attempt to deflect criticism of Tony Blair and his administration when the law lord issues his long-awaited report later this month.
The lengthy submission, made on behalf of Downing Street and other government departments, was sent to Lord Hutton in November. In October, Sir Kevin Tebbitt, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, told the inquiry that the Prime Minister chaired the key meeting at No 10 which decided on the strategy which led to the identification of the government scientist Dr David Kelly.
A senior source said that the submission dealt extensively with Sir Kevin's testimony. But last night Whitehall dismissed speculation that the move was a last-minute panic measure aimed at preventing Mr Blair being criticised by Lord Hutton, who is now finalising his report.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the Government did not include "fresh evidence" in its document. He pointed out that James Dingemans, counsel to the inquiry, had said that all the parties to it the Government, the BBC and the Kelly family had been given the opportunity to make further written submissions and correct any factual errors made in other written statements.
Mr Blair's spokesman said: "This was submitted by the Government shortly after the conclusion of the inquiry. As Mr Dingemans said, it was an opportunity for people to correct any factual errors they say have been made in any written submissions." He declined to give any detail of the Government document.
But the Conservative leader Michael Howard last night demanded that Mr Blair publish the late submission. In a letter to Mr Blair, Mr Howard said: "Your official spokesman has admitted only today that in November the Government made a late submission to the Hutton inquiry.
"This submission was therefore made after Sir Kevin Tebbit (the Ministry of Defence permanent secretary) gave his crucial evidence to the inquiry. "This has given rise to very serious concerns. Given the public interest involved, will you now publish this hitherto undisclosed submission?"
Sir Kevin's testimony, which raised the most serious questions at the inquiry about Mr Blair's involvement, came at a special sitting a month after Lord Hutton had finished taking evidence from other witnesses. His cross-examination was delayed because he had an eye operation.
After news broke of Dr Kelly's death in July, Mr Blair was asked by journalists: "Did you authorise anyone in Downing Street or in the Ministry of Defence to release Dr Kelly's name?" He responded: "I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly. Nobody was authorised to name Dr Kelly. I believe we have acted properly throughout."
But Sir Kevin said that a meeting at Downing Street on 8 July, chaired by Mr Blair, it was decided to issue an MoD press statement giving some details about Dr Kelly. The following day, the scientist's name was revealed in the media.