The Press and Journal’s Westminster reporter Lindsay Watling had a sit down with Sir John Chilcot to talk about the inquiry before it was released.
Q: It’s nearly seven years since the inquiry was announced. It has taken a very long time. Can you tell us why that is?
Sir John Chilcot: “It’s turned out to be on an unprecedented scale. There is no doubt that it’s taken a lot longer than the government which set us up expected, or indeed what we expected at the start.
“But to get to the bottom of what happened over a nine-year period with all the legal, military, diplomatic, and intelligence aspects of it has proved very great.
“Apart from the oral witness hearings which we’ve held, we had to scrutinise and analyse something like over 150,000 government documents.
“That’s a huge task and takes a great deal of time if you are going to get to the bottom of all of that.
“I think getting agreement on the material that we could publish from that government archive has taken time in itself, but if we are going to give – as we believe we have – a really reliable account, we’ve had to get agreement from government to publish some things which are quite without precedent; cabinet discussions, discussions with other heads of state and government.”
Q: You say that you’ll identify lessons learned. Will you single out individuals for criticism?
Sir John Chilcot: “The essence of this inquiry is that the committee is impartial – we’re independent of government, none of us are politicians, and we haven’t set out to criticise individuals or institutions.
“However, I made it very clear right at the start of the inquiry that if we came across decisions or behaviour which deserved criticism, then we wouldn’t shy away from making it.
“And indeed, there have been more than a few instances where we are bound to do that. But we shall do it on a base of a rigorous analysis of the evidence that supports that finding.
“We are not a court – not a judge or jury at work – but we’ve tried to apply the highest possible standards of rigorous analysis to the evidence where we make a criticism.”
Q: The families of those who lost their lives in the Iraq war have waited a long time for the report. Today is a significant day for them. What have you got to say to them?
Sir John Chilcot: “The families have been very much on our minds right from the outset. The first meetings the committee had were with family members and I’m glad that they will get a chance to have some of their questions answered.
“In addition, of course, there has been a continuing public debate about the issues raised by the Iraq experience, and we have taken very much into account not only what the families have told us from the outset, but what public questions there are in an experience that includes legal, political, diplomatic and intelligence matters.
“The conversations we’ve had with the families were invaluable in shaping some of the report and I am glad that some of them will be here when the report is launched.”
Q: What are your hopes for the report?
Sir John Chilcot: “That it will be seen to be a really reliable account of all that happened that really matters in the Iraq case, and the lessons you can draw from that for future cases.”