15 FEBRUARY

ARMS TO IRAQ INQUIRY REPORT PUBLISHED

15 February 1996 – The Arms to Iraq Inquiry, chaired by Sir Richard Scott, a senior judge, is finally published after a three year long investigation. It revealed that, despite signing up to a United Nations ban on exporting arms to either party in the Iraq-Iran war, that the British government had deliberately and secretly relaxed criteria for the export of arms and equipment of military use to the Iraqi dictatorship in the hope of giving it a crucial technical edge in the conflict, while also winning a share of Saddam Hussein’s huge defence budget.

John Major, who at the time of these covert exports was acting as Foreign Secretary, claimed he had not been briefed on any policy changes. However, it is known that in 1989 William Waldegrave, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, gave his approval for the relaxation of guidelines although assuring MPs at the same time that there had been no change of policy.  Although the Inquiry exonerated Waldegrave of “duplicitous intent,” it observed that the government failed in its duty to report what amounted to an effective change of policy to parliament, and attributed this to the fear of public opposition.

As a consequence of the failure to notify parliament, a case was brought against Paul Henderson, managing director of Matrix-Churchill and two colleagues for attempting to export high precision machine tools to Iraq which could be used for a military purpose without the required permission.  According the International Atomic Energy Authority they were very high quality machine tools which had a dual-use capability and could be used in the manufacture of artillery shells and medium range missiles.

However the trial collapsed in November 1992 when Alan Clark, who had been called as a witness, admitted that he had encouraged the company to ignore the possibility that their equipment was intended for military use. They were not the only individuals to be wrongly accused as a result of the government’s covert change of policy and  after the Scott Inquiry was published, convictions against three other individuals linked to other companies similarly entrapped in the arms to Iraq affair, were quashed.