Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-18)

MR OLIVER THORNE BSC RFP AND MS HILDA PRESSDEE MA MITI

19 JUNE 2007

  Q1 Chairman: Mr Thorne and Ms Pressdee, thank you very much for coming along. You have before you the documents which are central to this case—central in that their discovery led to a sequence of events that triggered the complaint; and central because their authenticity is one of the issues the Committee will have to resolve. We have before us your written report to Sir Philip[1] and we have noted the distinction you made between authenticity and veracity and we have seen the conclusions in paragraphs 24, 25, 36 and 51 to 60. Mr Thorne, can you very briefly summarise the reasons behind your conclusion in the penultimate paragraphs that drove you towards the conclusion that these are highly likely to be authentic documents?

  Mr Thorne: The first thing is the diversity of the documents themselves. There are a number of folders which show similarities to each other, and yet the documents within them contain a plethora of photocopies, thermal-fax copies, Post-it notes, photocopies on the backs of other photocopies, a progression in dates, in stamps, where it changes from a 19 pro forma to a 2000-and-something pro forma; a change round about the right time from an 0171 number to an 0207 number; and then there are also the little mistakes that we make in our day-to-day activities of dates and times not being set on faxes; dates being put at the beginning of the next month instead of the end of the previous month.

  Q2 Chairman: Given that some of the documents are conceded to be authentic, how difficult would it have been to insert into that pile a small number of forgeries?

  Mr Thorne: Given that the documents as a whole are conceded to be genuine?

  Q3  Chairman: Some of them are conceded to be genuine, and their authenticity is not in dispute; a small number are challenged and the question is: how easy would it have been to put the documents that are contested into the other documents, assuming that those other ones are authentic?

  Mr Thorne: Nothing in forgery is technically impossible. However, the number of interlinking features that would have to have been put in to make them similar to documents, or a mixture of documents elsewhere, with original matching hand stamp impressions, staple marks, in my opinion that would be extremely difficult to do.

  Chairman: I am grateful. Do colleagues have any questions to Mr Thorne?

  Q4  Mr Mullin: I believe in relation to one or two other cases brought by Mr Galloway there are forged documents in circulation, the Christian Science Monitor case is an example. Have you seen any of those?

  Mr Thorne: I did make it my business to look up that case. I am relying on things on the internet and so forth, so the reliability is subject to those constraints; but, for example, there was a George Galloway signature in that case and the signature is just simply nothing like his signature. To my mind those forgeries, from what I have seen, were of a totally different order—far worse.

  Q5  Mr Mullin: What have you seen? You have seen a signature, what else?

  Mr Thorne: I think that was the main thing. There was an example purporting to be George Galloway's signature. I believe the forensic examination for that case was done by the same person who did the original examination for this case. She concluded that effectively they were nothing like George Galloway's signature. I have not in detail looked at things like trash marks and indented impressions.

  Q6  Mr Mullin: If we were wanting to see what a real forgery looks like, if you will excuse the expression, we would have to go to that lady you have just mentioned?

  Mr Thorne: Yes.

  Q7  Mr Mullin: Could you just remind us what her name is?

  Mr Thorne: Dr Audrey Giles.

  Q8  Mr Dismore: If you were going to put this together as a complete set of forgeries how long do you think it would take to do; how many people would you need?

  Mr Thorne: In my mind, when I considered the possibility of them all being forgeries, I considered two things: firstly, that they were made up later over a short period of time, for whatever purposes. To all intents and purposes I think that would be impossible, because of the changes over time that we see in the documents and the breadth of them. I think the only way that you would be able to do it would be if you were actually running an office that was not the real office but was a sort of shadow office, and that was collecting forged things as you went along that built up this pattern. I suppose it would take the time that these purport to have been done over.

  Q9  Mr Dismore: How many people would be involved?

  Mr Thorne: You are talking about a reasonable-sized office I would have thought. I cannot put an exact figure on it because I have not counted all the different bits of handwriting that you find here and there.

  Q10  Mr Dismore: If you were going to try and create a forgery would you need to go to all this trouble to make it convincing?

  Mr Thorne: If you had access to these documents I think you could far, far more easily create a forgery that I think I would be able to see was a forgery but would take you far less effort and would be far less convoluted to do.

  Q11  Mr Barron: I just wanted to ask about that shadow office. I have heard it described in these papers as "ghost office". Have you any experience of ghost offices actually being anywhere in the world?

  Mr Thorne: I have not, no. I have no experience of that. I was driven to that explanation just by the nature of the documents. It is a theoretical possibility. Of course what I should have added is that office, of course, would have had to have got hold of all the reference documents that have been accepted as being genuine additionally.

  Q12  Nicholas Soames: Mr Thorne, before you examined the documents had they been examined by other forensic scientists of an equivalent standing to yourself, for example for the Daily Telegraph, or did you act for them at the same time?

  Mr Thorne: No, I did not. They were examined by Dr Audrey Giles, to my knowledge.

  Q13  Nicholas Soames: Apart from that no-one else?

  Mr Thorne: Apart from the time I saw them and produced a preliminary report suggesting other possible avenues; but that was in the Telegraph offices and I only had a couple of hours to look at them during which time I think there was a fire alarm.

  Q14 Mr Dismore: How many hours did it take you to produce this report and analyse the documents?

  Mr Thorne: It was well over a week's solid work.

  Q15  Mr Mullin: You were enumerating at the beginning of your evidence the "quirks", if you were, that made it look as though they were genuine, and convinced you that they were genuine. One you omitted that we might put on the record was the differential size of the photocopying paper. Can you say a word about that?

  Mr Thorne: Yes, the photocopy letter dated 2 May 2000, reference 194992394K and the Iraqi Intelligence Service memo, the photocopy letter from George Galloway and two CVs were all bound together, at one stage stapled together through a number of staples, and were all on longer than A4 paper, something called—

  Q16  Chairman: If you cannot find the description you can write to us and give us the name.

  Mr Thorne: Folio sized paper. I will give the exact name of that: foolscap folio it is known as, 8.5" by 13".[2] Yet those documents had all been through a photocopier. That sounds straightforward, but if I was to ask one of you to go and do that you would have considerable difficulty to find paper that size, load it into your photocopier and produce the photocopies. It is possible that it is more common in Iraq. I have not been able to find that out, but it is a feature that seems to be there in order to take into consideration that there is longer original headed paper used within the official documents that we have before us.

  Q17  Mr Mullin: Your only point about that is not that it is conclusive, but that it is another little feature that would have to be emulated in order for these documents to be forgeries?

  Mr Thorne: That is the nature of these things. Any one thing on its own is probably not massively significant, but it is adding them altogether that makes it more and more difficult and less and less likely to produce a forgery.

  Q18  Mr Llwyd: Dr Giles in her report refers to common practice in forensic science laboratories in describing the strength of the conclusions that you have come to. You will be aware of the way in which they are normally banded. On adopting that practice, how would you describe your view of the strength of the contention that these are genuine?

  Mr Thorne: I would describe it as very strong evidence on her scale. I actually use a slightly different terminology.

  Chairman: Any other questions? Mr Thorne, Ms Pressdee, I am very grateful to you for coming along and answering questions and assisting the Committee in its inquiry. You are free people!





1   Volume II, WE 32. Back

2   UK foolscap folio paper is defined as 8.5 inches by 13.5 inches being `half' of true foolscap paper which is 13.5 inches x 17 inches. However the terminology can be extended to include the variant 8.5 inches by 13 inches which is sometimes known as American Foolscap.

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