HYNDBURN'S MP Greg Pope has defended his role in quizzing Dr David Kelly, the Ministry of Defence "mole'' whose suicide sparked a national outcry.
Mr Pope is a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee which questioned the weapons expert following BBC claims that Downing Street spin doctor Alastair Campbell had deliberately "sexed up'' a dossier exaggerating the military threat posed by Iraq before the Gulf War.
Dr Kelly was named as the person who had briefed reporter Andrew Gilligan, whose report provoked a huge row between the Government and the BBC.
Since Dr Kelly slit his wrists in a quiet woodland at the weekend, it has been suggested that several people concerned in the affair, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, had "blood on their hands''.
Mr Pope said: "I am appalled at the untimely death of Dr Kelly. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues at this extremely distressing time. But some people are already looking for scapegoats in a way and at a time that I believe to be deeply insensitive.''
He said that some sections of the media had sought to lay responsibility with the Foreign Affairs Committee for the manner of its questioning of the shy MoD official.
Mr Pope said: "I can only answer for my own actions. I have read the draft Hansard transcripts and seen television extracts of my own questions to Dr Kelly and I believe them to be reasonable in both tone and content.
"I repeat that I find it deeply distasteful that people in some quarters are seeking to lay blame or gain advantage from this tragedy.''
Mr Pope said that only Labour MP Andrew McKinlay had been aggressive with Dr Kelly, and he had publicly apologised for any stress caused by his questioning.
He said: "Crucially, I asked Dr Kelly whether Mr Campbell had ever said in the report that Iraq was capable of unleashing its chemical weapons anywhere within the space of 45 minutes, to which he replied that he had not. I also asked him whether he had ever believed that this statement was true and he said he did not.''
Mr Pope said: " Dr Kelly seemed quite quiet during the hearing, because we had to switch the air conditioning off to hear him, but the committee certainly did not try to make him feel uncomfortable.''
He added: "Alastair Campbell has denied that this 'sexing-up' ever happened, so has Tony Blair and so has Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. So the only person who still believes that is the case is Andrew Gilligan. But it would be premature to say too much about the situation until the judicial inquiry into Dr Kelly's death, headed by Lord Hutton, is completed.''