Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1640 - 1659)



  1640.  Fully understood. And when you wrote that can you explain to the Committee what circumstances you envisaged where there might be a limited necessary use of force and by whom?
  (Mr Murray)  Yes. We were talking about a situation where the junta plainly could not be brought to respect any of the agreements or accords for peaceful restoration and it would be felt possible for a UN mandate to be given which allowed for a limited use of force by the ECOMOG forces. I should be quite plain that at no stage did I ever see any consideration of use of force by this country or the involvement of UK forces.

  1641.  So what you are saying to us is that the official policy was a combination of trying to achieve a resolution by peaceful means but the official policy also envisaged a potential possible fall-back position in which there might have to be limited use of military force?
  (Mr Murray)  Yes that was something I have said before on which there would have to be a great deal of new international consultation and domestic consultation, submissions to Ministers, etcetera, etcetera.

  1642.  Was this two-stranded policy the policy as seen at official level or was it also explained to Ministers that behind the publicly stated policy of peaceful resolution officials had in mind that there could be circumstances in which there might have to be resort to force?
  (Mr Murray)  I had not personally had any conversations along those lines with Ministers.
  (Ms Grant)  Could I answer that because I was there a lot longer than Craig. As I say, there was a two-pronged policy which was being pursued by the United Kingdom and the United Nations which was support for economic sanctions and diplomatic negotiation. There had for some months been a third prong to a policy which was the one adopted by ECOWAS which also included the threat or the possible use of force so that option was on the table and I do recall, I think, either having discussed or having put some earlier papers to Ministers at which we made clear, indeed I think there were some telegrams making clear that when we agreed the first Security Council Resolution in October it was premature and indeed problematic for us to support the third prong, in other words the possible use of force, and that therefore our policy would be limited to the first two but the possibility of including and reconsidering the possible use of force in future in the context of a further UN Security Council Resolution was certainly shared with Ministers. They were aware that was ECOWAS's preferred policy. They had also decided that we would not go that far at this time and indeed we were investigating the possibilities of going to that second Resolution and endorsing the use of force or mandating ECOMOG to use force in New York on the very day that ECOMOG moved against the junta. It was possible, had we had a few more weeks, there might have been a second Security Council Resolution which we would have supported which did indeed mandate or support ECOMOG in the third prong of its approach which it had adopted in the region.

  1643.  You would agree that at no time did Ministers disclose in their public statements, not least to Parliament that British policy was anything other than the resolution of the conflict by peaceful means?
  (Ms Grant)  Nor was it. At that time that was the only policy we were considering and implementing. If we had changed that policy of course Ministers would have explained that I am sure.

  1644.  In the same minute, Mr Murray, you recommended that Mr Penfold should be withdrawn from his post, did you not?
  (Mr Murray)  Yes I did.

  1645.  In doing so you did in that minute, did you not, make a very serious personal allegation against Mr Penfold. You made an allegation that he was acting contrary to the British Government's policy and that he was advising President Kabbah to go for the military option?
  (Mr Murray)  Yes I did.

  1646.  Can you tell the Committee what was the documentary basis you had for making this extremely serious allegation against the High Commissioner?
  (Mr Murray)  It did not have a documentary basis. It was based on what Mr Penfold had told me.

  1647.  We have your word that was the case. We unfortunately do not have Mr Penfold's word. Would you like to then tell us what was the occasion, the date and place of the meeting, at which you are alleging Mr Penfold told you that he had advised President Kabbah to take the military option?
  (Mr Murray)  Yes. I walked into Tim Andrews' room on 29 January, I believe it was shortly after lunch. Mr Penfold was talking to Tim Andrews and I think had just handed over the Project Python document and Mr Penfold was in a gleeful mood, very up-beat and he was telling Tim Andrews that Sandline were going to get the Kamajors organised and that this would change the military situation. I was rather alarmed by this.

  1648.  Just on that point you are actually now confirming to us that he told Mr Andrews that Sandline was going to be providing arms to the Kamajors?
  (Mr Murray)  No, he said Sandline were going to get the Kamajors organised—and he said nothing about arms—and this would change the military situation.

  1649.  Getting them organised by training would change the military situation against a well-armed junta?
  (Mr Murray)  Apparently. I am only referring you to what he said. I then asked him if he would mind coming with me into my room which was adjoining and I asked him to explain what this was all about. He told me that he had advised President Kabbah in Conakry to take on Sandline and that they would be able to train up the Kamajors as a fighting force and even things up with the junta. I said, "That's pretty alarming because I have just told the Department not to have any dealings with Sandline." I should perhaps state at this point this was the first time I had ever met Mr Penfold. In the interim he had been on holiday in Canada and the United States between my decision to tell the Department that and this meeting so I had no opportunity to convey the Department's decision to him until then. I said that in view of our general policy on mercenaries and dealing with such people I was not sure it was wise to have advised President Kabbah to employ Sandline. We then had a discussion where he said that it was the only way to get Kabbah back, essentially to use force. I said that is not where we are meant to be going. We were meant to be exploring other peaceful options including things like power sharing with any legitimate opposition and any other possible options. He said that I was losing sight of the fact that the key point was to restore Kabbah and that was the end of our conversation. I believe I fairly immediately went to see Ann and Richard Dales who, in my recollection, happened to be together in Richard Dales's room at the time and I told them what Mr Penfold had told me about his action in advising President Kabbah to hire Sandline and I told them that this was of great concern to me and they appeared to share my concern and Ann then arranged for the meeting of 30 January in order to find out what all this was about. I do not know if Ann wishes to add anything.


  1650.  Ms Grant?
  (Ms Grant)  I very much support everything Craig has said.

Sir John Stanley

  1651.  You are of course aware that unlike yourself who did not produce any record of the alleged conversation and the nature of the conversations to which you have just referred, Mr Penfold did at Ms Grant's request produce in his minute of 2 February his own account of his discussions with President Kabbah at the point when President Kabbah on December 19 told him of the possible contract that he had with Sandline. You are aware that what you have just told the Committee is directly in contradiction to the actual minute that Mr Penfold put to Ms Grant. You are aware that Mr Penfold told Ms Grant this when President Kabbah asked Mr Penfold whether he should sign the contract or not, I am doing this from recollection, Mr Penfold's minute to Ms Grant makes it clear that he replied that it was a decision for President Kabbah. You are aware also from the minute of 2 February to Ms Grant that when told by President Kabbah of the impending signing of this contract, Mr Penfold, as is categorically and clearly stated in this minute, reminded President Kabbah that the British Government's policy was the resolution of this conflict by peaceful means. I have to put it to you, Mr Murray, that on these two fundamental points we have documentary evidence from Mr Penfold; we have no such documentary evidence from you.
  (Mr Murray)  I really find those points rather difficult to agree with. There is a minute of 2 February written by Mr Penfold at the direct instruction of Ms Grant who insisted that he document these matters and the primary thing being documented was a meeting that had taken place on 19 December. At Ms Grant's meeting with Mr Penfold on 30 January Ms Grant asked me to be present. I may be wrong but my understanding was that her motive in doing that was so that I could substantiate in her presence what Mr Penfold had told me in terms of his advice to President Kabbah. At that meeting, Ms Grant told Mr Penfold that he had given advice to President Kabbah which was contrary to Government policy and Mr Penfold did not deny this but on the contrary he replied that he had given such advice in his personal capacity. I have a very clear recollection of this. You may ask Ms Grant in a moment but my belief is that she has a similar recollection. I do not believe this is contradicted by his minute of 2 February. Ms Grant laid down the law to him in fairly clear terms about giving advice in his personal capacity and as a result Mr Penfold's minute of 2 February appears more hedged than what he told me or told me and Ms Grant directly but in paragraph 4 of his message of 2 February you can still discern that his advice was to sign the contract where it says, "I noted that the decision was for him to make but as a personal view I noted that he had already had favourable experiences with executive outcomes." There is more, but the kernel of his advice to President Kabbah seems to have survived into his minutes of 2 February. Members have a copy and can read it for themselves.

Sir John Stanley:  I have to put it to you, and obviously the Committee may wish to ask Mr Penfold to comment on what you have just said, that reference that you have just made to Mr Penfold speaking in a personal capacity and President Kabbah's favourable experience with Executive Outcomes relates simply to the previous arrangements which had existed between that company and President Kabbah's forces as you well know. It does not actually bear at all on the specific position that Mr Penfold took up in relation to the prospective Sandline contract.

Chairman:  It would probably be best to have Ms Grant's comments.

Sir John Stanley:  If Mr Penfold wants to comment—


  1652.  I think Ms Grant should be allowed to comment on the last statement.
  (Ms Grant)  I can confirm Mr Murray's account of the meeting at which we were both present with Mr Penfold. As you say, Sir John, there was no written account of the previous conversation between Craig Murray and Peter Penfold but he had already given me the gist of it along the lines he describes and it was that that had prompted me to have the kind of meeting I usually try to avoid with a High Commissioner with whom I have to have a co-operative relationship and it was for me a rather formal meeting at which, as I say, I had asked Craig to be present and where I wanted to hear, firstly, Mr Penfold's side of the story from his own mouth and to make clear as his reporting officer and the guardian of the policy, if you like, in London exactly what I thought and I did that in the course of the meeting. It was as Craig recalls. There was some heated and quite lengthy debate about whether or not it was open to Mr Penfold to give advice to a head of state to whom he was accredited in a personal capacity. I said that I did not accept that he could do so. I thought that when he gave advice he should always bear in mind his official status and that President Kabbah would do the same. If he was giving advice to President Kabbah President Kabbah would assume that advice had the backing of the British Government.

Dr Godman

  1653.  Can I ask a quick supplementary. In terms of the relationship between this professional diplomat and the President and what has just been said, what do you understand by the term a "personal opinion"?
  (Ms Grant)  Well, as I tried to explain, in my view if you are giving advice on policy of any kind to a head of state or government or a minister in another government and the relationship of that person to you is one of High Commissioner accredited to that country, my own view is that you cannot have a personal opinion. I remember Mr Penfold arguing back that actually President Kabbah had listened to him particularly because of his personal regard for him and his personal relationship which we understood was very close. I said he could not know that. He could not know how President Kabbah was responding and he had to assume and behave as if all his communications, however informal, in whatever difficult circumstances, were in his capacity as British High Commissioner.

  1654.  So can I infer by that that it would appear that Mr Penfold had developed, if you like, a relationship that took him beyond that of the professional representative with the President? Was he acting as a kind of personal advisor to the President in terms of Sandline and HMG?
  (Ms Grant)  I was seeking to ensure by that conversation and by other conversations we had had of a gentler nature before that that relationship did not develop in an improper or a damaging way. I made it very clear what I thought were the proper limits and conveyed those to Mr Penfold and expected him to observe those limits.


  1655.  Can we infer from that that the minute of the High Commissioner of 2 February was a sanitised and rather self-serving version of what he had told you earlier in your judgment?
  (Ms Grant)  I would not agree with that categorisation although I think the most important difference between what he said in the meeting and what he wrote was a very crucial one which was the reference to the purchase the arms.

  1656.  I am sorry, I missed that.
  (Ms Grant)  The reference to the purchase of arms was in the minute but not in the conversation so rather than being a sanitised version, if you like it was an expanded version.

  1657.  But so far as the personal advice was concerned that was excluded?
  (Ms Grant)  Again I do not find that surprising. I had, as Craig has implied, been fairly tough at length about the way in which he was carrying out his business. As part of my interview with him I asked him to write down in his terms in a secure environment everything that he knew. I did not ask him to write down the fact that I had mentioned to him or gone through with him the way in which he conducted his business.

  1658.  But your motive was that you were rather alarmed by the implications of what he had been saying to you?
  (Ms Grant)  By the implications of what he said at our meeting and by earlier meetings he had had with Mr Andrews and Mr Murray.

Chairman:  May I check one thing with Sir John. We have another room, room 8 at 2 o'clock. Sir John, if you are going on for more than ten minutes we will stop now, otherwise we can continue.

Sir John Stanley:  I have got a couple more questions I would like to put to Mr Murray and then perhaps I could leave the other questions to Mr Murray until after lunch.

Chairman:  A couple of questions to Mr Murray and then Sir John will continue after lunch.

Sir John Stanley

  1659.  Mr Murray, I want to return to the paragraph in Legg 6.53 headed "The intelligence report". That paragraph makes it clear that you were the one official who saw this key intelligence report that your Department received on or about 19 February which clearly did refer to the provision of military helicopters and supplies in clear breach of the arms embargo by Sandline. Obviously we can all make better decisions with the benefit of hindsight but, with the benefit of hindsight, do you believe that you made the wrong decision in discounting that report because of the alleged reference to Liberia which we do find strange and are pursuing elsewhere further details as to how that reference to Liberia got in?
  (Mr Murray)  I think in the same circumstances I would probably make the same judgement again in that there was a lot of wrong information. It turns out there was a kernel of very important information which I failed to discover. I can discover it with hindsight but I am not sure putting me back there I would discover it again. I acknowledge there was a kernel of truth I failed to find but there was a lot of dross about it.

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