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Prescott 'doubts over Iraq weapons'

Lord Prescott had doubts about intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the inquiry into the war has heard.

The former deputy prime minister dismissed some of the British spy agencies' information about the threat posed by Iraq as "tittle tattle" and told the Iraq Inquiry he had the feeling intelligence about Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was "not very substantial".

Lord Prescott said conclusions in reports on Iraq prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) went beyond the evidence available and noted that the 2004 Butler Inquiry found the recommendations made to ministers on the basis of pre-war intelligence about Iraq were "frankly wrong".

Lord Prescott also said he felt "nervous" about the notorious claim published in the Government's September 2002 dossier that Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes.

Referring to the JIC reports on Iraq, he told the inquiry: "When I kept reading them, I kept thinking to myself, 'Is this intelligence?'

"It's basically what you have heard somewhere and what somebody else has told somebody. Presumably that's how intelligence is brought about. So I got the feeling it wasn't very substantial, but it clearly was robust. As we knew more and more whether there was evidence of Iraq involved in weapons of mass destruction, the conclusions were a little ahead, I think, of what the evidence we had. Perhaps that's the way it is.

"So I'm curious to have then read the evidence provided, I think in 2004, by JIC to look at the recommendations they made to us were frankly wrong and built too much on a little information. I think that was made by a number of the witnesses to you.

"That was my impression at the time but, you know, I just thought 'well this is the intelligence document, this is what you have'. It seems robust but not enough to justify to that. Certainly what they do in intelligence is a bit of tittle tattle here and a bit more information there."

He added: "To be fair to the intelligence agency, when they said in our report, which led in fact to the information produced in the document, that there might be something happening in 45 minutes - they have got this ability, they have got these missiles. We do need to accept that's the judgment and there must be something in it.

"I didn't totally dismiss it, I didn't have any evidence to feel that they were wrong, but I just felt a little bit nervous about conclusions on Iraq's force that seemed to be limited intelligence. "

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