Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1465 - 1479)




  1465.  Ms Grant and Mr Murray, may I welcome you on behalf of the Committee and reiterate our terms of reference in respect of our inquiry, that is to examine, taking into account the Legg Report on the Sierra Leone arms investigation, whether (1) actions by government personnel in relation to Sierra Leone after 25 May 1997 were consistent with implementation of the government's policy that the restoration of President Kabbah should be pursued "by peaceful means"; and (2) whether deficiencies have been revealed in the arrangements in the FCO for passing information to Ministers and implementing their instructions. So it is partly an exercise in looking back, partly an exercise in trying to learn the lessons of what went wrong over that period of government policy relating to Sierra Leone. Mr Murray, we received your memorandum this morning. I know you will excuse the Committee if we have not mastered it as perhaps we should and so there may be some questions which have not fully absorbed the information you set out in your memorandum, but clearly we have it before us. It is always helpful to know precisely the roles that the witnesses played. Ms Grant, could you tell us when you took over your job at the relevant time and your current position?
  (Ms Grant)  I started as Head of the Africa (Equatorial) Department in August 1996 and I left it at the end of July 1998, so for the whole period covered by the inquiry.

  1466.  And you left it on promotion?
  (Ms Grant)  On promotion, to be the Director for Africa and the Commonwealth, which includes the department I used to run, Africa Department (Equatorial), the Southern African Department and the Commonwealth Co-ordination Department.

  1467.  So at all material times you were a key officer in the chain?
  (Ms Grant)  I was.

  1468.  Mr Murray, when did you take over your position?
  (Mr Murray)  I joined the department on 5 January of this year as Deputy Head and I left it in August of this year.

  1469.  Ms Grant, you clearly have reflected deeply on what went wrong over this period. Can you tell the Committee what lessons you personally have learned about what should have been done better?
  (Ms Grant)  I am not one of those people who always thinks I get things right and I have, of course, thought what I might have done differently and better. There are two things that affected me most specifically on which I feel most regretful. One is on the handling of the briefing for Parliament when I suppose with hindsight now I would have stopped everything I was doing and gone into a quiet room with Mr Andrews, who drafted the briefing, and gone through it much more carefully and in more detail than we did on the day when we were dealing with lots of competing items. I do treat the work we do directly for Parliament very seriously. We did make some mistakes of tenses and other things that are covered in the Legg Report.

  1470.  Mistakes on?
  (Ms Grant)  In the tenses. If you recall, because the briefing was prepared over a period of a couple of days and was constantly being revised, there was language which was inconsistent.

  1471.  But leaving aside the grammar, what of substance in that briefing went wrong?
  (Ms Grant)  What we did not convey strongly and clearly to Ministers was that we had already referred (which I think we were right to do) allegations regarding Sandline to Customs & Excise for their consideration. It was not at that time an investigation, but we had referred an allegation and on reflection I wish we had drawn that fact to the attention of Ministers.

  1472.  Was it not more than that? Was it not just the referral of Lord Avebury's letter but substantial evidence beforehand of the involvement of a British company in the overthrow of the junta?
  (Ms Grant)  I am not sure I would describe that as evidence. What we had, in addition to the Avebury letter, was a minute to me from Peter Penfold which referred to a contract. In the same minute he also referred to an earlier letter he had sent to me and a briefing he had given to the department. I was not aware of either of those before and I was still trying to get to the bottom of that when the briefing went up. As you will also see from the report, at the same time I had a conversation with Mr Lloyd in which I aired with him some of my concerns about where we might be going and I told him I was trying to get to the bottom of it. I did that orally, but the briefing did not reflect the extent of our concern at the time.

  1473.  But that briefing in early March was triggered by Lord Avebury's letter.
  (Ms Grant)  The briefing actually was prepared to answer a question——

  1474.  Perhaps I can rephrase that. The referral to Customs was triggered by Lord Avebury's letter.
  (Ms Grant)  It was.

  1475.  Had it not been for Lord Avebury's letter the matter might not have reached Ministers at all.
  (Ms Grant)  I think it would have been triggered then by Peter Penfold's minute. It was the fact that there was a process in train, following on Lord Avebury's allegations with Customs & Excise, that I was referring to.

  1476.  You were saying one area for regret was the briefing of the Minister. Would you continue? There was another area.
  (Ms Grant)  As I think Sir Thomas Legg concludes, there was no attempt to withhold or in any way mislead Ministers, but we could have more pointedly set out ——

  1477.  And you accept that criticism?
  (Ms Grant)  In relation to Sandline I accept it. I think the only thing I would add in explanation, not as an excuse, is that we were answering a question which asked what Her Majesty's Government had done to help restore democracy to Sierra Leone. That was very much the focus of the briefing, my input into the briefing and of that post.

  1478.  And the other area of regret?
  (Ms Grant)  The other area of regret is again in my meeting with Mr Lloyd which I think is fairly reflected here. I assume it is primarily the account that Mr Lloyd gave to Sir Thomas Legg which the report is drawing on. At that meeting I did not itemise with him the reasons for my concern and share the full extent of the paper that we had. I did not do that because I could not give the Minister a full account. I could not say where the 30 December letter was. I could not say what Peter Penfold had said in the department. I was trying to get a fuller picture before I gave him a proper account.

Mr Rowlands

  1479.  What was the date of the meeting?
  (Ms Grant)  10 March.

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