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Embargoed until 11:30 30 July 09: Statement by Sir John Chilcot, chairman of the Iraq Inquiry, at a news conference to launch the inquiry on Thursday 30 July 2009 at the QEII Conference Centre, London.
Issued by the News Distribution Service on behalf of the Iraq Inquiry.
Statement by Sir John Chilcot, chairman of the Iraq Inquiry, at a news conference to launch the inquiry on Thursday 30 July 2009 at the QEII Conference Centre, London.
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Good morning. My name is Sir John Chilcot and I am the chairman of the Iraq Inquiry. Seated on my right are the other members of the Inquiry team – Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar.
What I’d like to do today is explain what we think our task is and how we intend to approach it. Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.
The Inquiry will have access to all the information held by the Government and may ask any British citizen to appear before it. In the Prime Minister’s words, “no British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry.”
The potential scope of the Inquiry is considerable. Previous inquiries have tended to focus on a specific event within a relatively limited period. We have been asked to examine a range of decisions and actions over a period of eight years. There are differing views about what happened during that period, and why, which we will need to address.
The Committee was asked to start work as soon as possible after the end of July. We have already started. We have made our first requests for Government documents. We will have a huge amount of reading to do over the next few weeks to help us to identify the critical issues on which to focus.
During this initial phase the Inquiry team will engage expert specialist advisers – on international law, military operations and on reconstruction – to help us interpret the evidence.
One of our first priorities is to hear from the families of those who died during the conflict and others who were seriously affected, including veterans groups. We want to know what they think the Inquiry’s priorities should be. I’ve already written to many of the families explaining what we’re doing. We will be making arrangements to offer meetings to those who want them as soon as practicable. We will leave it to them to decide whether these discussions are held in public or private - or indeed whether they wish to talk to us at all. We want to be sensitive to, and respect, their wishes.
We come to this task with open minds and a commitment to review the evidence objectively. Each member of the committee is independent and non-partisan. We are determined to be thorough, rigorous, fair and frank to enable us to form impartial and evidence-based judgements on all aspects of the issues, including the arguments about the legality of the conflict. We will be thorough and rigorous in our analysis of the evidence, taking advice, as I have said, from a range of specialist experts.
In order to be fair to, and to get the most from, witnesses, we will adopt an inquisitorial approach to our task, taking evidence direct from witnesses rather than conducting our business through lawyers. The Inquiry is not a court of law and nobody is on trial. But I want to make something absolutely clear. This Committee will not shy away from making criticism. If we find that mistakes were made, that there were issues which could have been dealt with better, we will say so frankly.
We are all committed to ensuring that our proceedings are as open as possible because we recognise that is one of the ways in which the public can have confidence in the integrity and independence of the inquiry process.
In that spirit, we want to ensure that as many people as possible have access to what is happening in the public hearings, either direct or through the media. That includes the possibility of public hearings being televised and live streaming on the internet. We will need to decide on the detailed arrangements nearer the time but we are committed to openness.
We will have a website for the public to access transcripts of hearings and factual and other background material, as well as details on how to contact us if they think they have information relevant to our investigations.
I have already made clear that I consider that as much as possible of the Inquiry’s hearings should be in public. But if the Inquiry is to succeed in getting to the heart of what happened and what lessons need to be learned for the future, we recognise that some evidence sessions will need to be private. Sometimes that will be consistent with the need to protect national security, sometimes to ensure complete candour and openness from witnesses. But I repeat: the hearings will be held in public wherever possible.
There will be speculation about whom we call as witnesses. The people we invite to give evidence will be those we judge, having considered the material before us, are best placed to supply the information we need to conduct our task thoroughly. That will, of course, include the former Prime Minister and other senior figures involved in decision-taking. But not all of the witnesses will be household names. Some may be junior officials with vital evidence about the ways their managers and leaders acted.
We intend to complete our task as quickly as possible, but we are also determined to be thorough. We cannot know, at this stage, how long the Inquiry will take until we have read the background material and heard the evidence. If, as we work through the evidence, we consider that it would be helpful to publish an interim report, we will do so. But it is more likely, given the purpose of our inquiry – identifying lessons for the way government acts and takes decisions in the future – that our report will be a single one at the end of the Committee’s deliberations. That report will be published, and then debated, in Parliament.
We recognise that our task – of identifying lessons for the future – is a difficult and important one. It is one which we all take extremely seriously. Our promise to you today is that we will approach the task in the thorough, rigorous, fair and frank way I have outlined, with a shared commitment both to openness and to completing our work as quickly as the task allows.
Note for news editors
On 15th of June 2009 the Prime Minister announced to the House of Commons the establishment of an independent Committee of Inquiry into Iraq. It will consider the period from summer 2001 (before military operations began in March 2003) and the UK’s subsequent involvement in Iraq until the end of July 2009.
Sir John Chilcot is the chairman of the Committee. The other members are Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar.
The Iraq Inquiry website is going online today to coincide with the news conference. The address is;
The website includes background material, biographical details of the Inquiry committee, a news feed, news releases and explains how to get in touch with the Inquiry team. Once the public hearings are underway, transcripts will be available on a daily basis.
Biographies of the Inquiry committee members
Sir John Chilcot
John Chilcot is currently independent Chairman of the Building and Civil Engineering Group, a not-for profit group set up in 1942 to deliver pensions, health and welfare and other benefits to 6,500 firms and almost a quarter of a million employees in the construction industry. He is also Chairman of the Police Foundation, an independent think-tank whose objective is to improve policing services to the public by evidence-based research; a member of the Awards Council of the Royal Anniversary Trust; and a Trustee of the Police Rehabilitation Trust. He chairs the Advisory Committee of the Centre for Contemporary British History, and is a member of the Institute of Historical Research Advisory Council.
He was Permanent Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office from 1990 before retiring from a career as a senior civil servant at the end of 1997. Since then he has been a (non-party) member or chairman of a number of reviews, inquiries and other bodies including the Independent Commission on the Voting System (1997-8), the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Public Records and its successor National Archives Council (1999-04), a review of Royal and VIP security, an inquiry into the IRA break-in at the PSNI Special Branch HQ (2002), and the Review of the Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction by a Committee of Privy Counsellors, chaired by Lord Butler, (2004). He was Staff Counsellor to the Security and Intelligence Agencies (1999-2004) and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (2002-06).
Born in 1939, he was educated at Brighton College (Lyon Scholar, now Vice-President and Fellow), and Pembroke College, Cambridge (Open Scholar, now an Honorary Fellow), where he read English, and Modern and Medieval Languages. John Chilcot has been married to Rosalind Chilcot, an artist, since 1964.
Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman
Lawrence Freedman has been Professor of War Studies at King's College London since 1982. He became head of the School of Social Science and Public Policy at King's in 2000 and was appointed Vice-Principal in 2003. He was educated at Whitley Bay Grammar School and the Universities of Manchester, York and Oxford. Before joining King's he held research appointments at Nuffield College Oxford, IISS and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He was appointed Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign in 1997.
Professor Freedman has written extensively on nuclear strategy and the cold war, as well as commentating regularly on contemporary security issues. Among his books are Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam (2000), The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (3rd edition 2004), Deterrence (2005) and the two volume Official History of the Falklands Campaign (second edition 2007), and an Adelphi Paper on The Transformation in Strategic Affairs (2004). His most recent book, A Choice of Enemies: America confronts the Middle East, won the 2009 Lionel Gelber Prize and Duke of Westminster Medal for Military Literature.
He is married to Professor Judith Freedman and has a son, Sam, and a daughter, Ruth.
Sir Martin Gilbert
Sir Martin Gilbert was born in London in 1936. After school in London he was in the Army for two years’ National Service (Intelligence Corps) before going to Oxford University. He taught history at Oxford for ten years, and in 1968 became the Official Biographer of Sir Winston Churchill
His published work includes six volumes of Churchill biography, twelve volumes of Churchill documents, books on the First and Second World Wars, a study of The Roots of Appeasement, and a three-volume History of the Twentieth Century. He has also devised and published nine historical atlases, including his recent Atlas of the Second World War. He has made special studies of the Dardanelles Commission of Enquiry and the Royal Commission on Palestine (the Peel Commission).
He has lectured widely on political and military history and international affairs, including overseas at the Ministry of Defence (Moscow), the Houses of Parliament (Ottawa), the India International Centre (New Delhi), the Academy of Sciences (Kiev) and the White House (Washington). In 1985 and 1986 he was a Non-Governmental Organization representative at the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Geneva.
He has accompanied both John Major and Gordon Brown on official visits to the Middle East.
Sir Roderic Lyne
Roderic Lyne is Deputy Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House); a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation; a member of the Board of Governors of Kingston University; and a non-executive director of Peter Hambro Mining.
He was a member of HM Diplomatic Service from 1970 to 2004. He served as British Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2000 to 2004; UK Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation, the UN and other international organisations in Geneva from 1997 to 2000; and Private Secretary to the Prime Minister for foreign affairs, defence and Northern Ireland from 1993 to 1996.
From 1990 to 1993 he was head of the Soviet and then Eastern Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and from 1987 to 1990 Head of Chancery at the British Embassy in Moscow. In his earlier career he served in the Soviet Union, Senegal and at the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York, as well as in the Soviet and Rhodesian departments of the Foreign Office and as Assistant Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary.
Baroness Usha Prashar of Runnymede
Baroness Prashar was appointed inaugural Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission in October 2005. She is also a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation, a Trustee of Cumberland Lodge and President of the Royal Commonwealth Society, having previously served as the Society’s chairman.
From 2000 to 2005 she was the First Civil Service Commissioner. Before that she was Chairman of the Parole Board for England and Wales (1997-2000), Director of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (1986-1991) and Director of the Runnymede Trust (1976-84). She was also a member of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (1991-1993) and was a member of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (1992-1997).
A Crossbencher in the House of Lords, she is Chair of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, a member of the Privileges Committee and a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
She was educated at the independent Wakefield Girls' High School. She read politics at the University of Leeds and undertook postgraduate studies in social administration at the University of Glasgow.