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Blair held blameless for suicide

A senior British judge on Wednesday cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government of any blame for the suicide of a weapons scientist who was the source of a BBC report accusing Blair and his aides of "sexing up" the case for going to war in Iraq.

The judge, Lord Hutton, also cleared Blair and his government of any deliberate attempt to deceive the British public over the threat from Iraq in a September 2002 intelligence dossier. The allegation that government officials had used intelligence they "probably knew" was wrong _ reported by the BBC on May 20 _ was "unfounded," Hutton said in a long-awaited 740-page report.

The judge also castigated the BBC for sloppy reporting and "defective" editorial supervision.

After Hutton read his conclusions from the bench in the Royal Courts of Justice, the chairman of the BBC's board of governors, Gavyn Davies, resigned. It was one of the worst journalistic debacles in the 78-year history of the BBC, which operates a worldwide broadcasting empire that has set standards for editorial integrity for decades. Many BBC journalists were stunned by Hutton's rebuke.

The network's board of governors was set to meet today to consider further steps in response to Hutton's findings. Greg Dyke, the BBC's editor in chief, issued a statement saying the broadcaster had already admitted that "certain key allegations" of the May report by its defense correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, "were wrong and we apologized for them."

But he added that "at no time" did the network accuse Blair of lying, and insisted that "the public in a modern democracy has a right to be made aware" of the serious concerns expressed to the BBC by Dr. David Kelly, the government weapons scientist who was the source for Gilligan's report.

Kelly's suicide in July set off a political crisis and Hutton's inquiry, but the judge said the scientist's death could not have been foreseen. Still, he criticized Kelly's employer, the Ministry of Defense, for not communicating clearly with Kelly about a high-level decision to make his name public.

Kelly expressed his private doubts about the reliability of some intelligence findings on Iraq to Gilligan and another BBC reporter; that put him in the middle of the clash over the credibility of the BBC's reporting and the truthfulness of intelligence findings.

Blair, who appeared in the House of Commons immediately after Hutton's remarks, said that the six months of accusations that his government distorted intelligence "is itself the real lie _ I simply ask that those who made it and repeated it withdraw it."

The leader of the opposition, Michael Howard, said his Conservative Party accepted Hutton's conclusions but still wanted an inquiry into why no weapons of mass destruction were found.