The Iraq Inquiry, set up by Gordon Brown to find the truth about Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, remains at loggerheads with the Cabinet Office over the publication of classified documents.
It means Sir John’s report will not be published until late next year at the earliest – two years behind schedule – though if the issue is not resolved soon it could be 2014 before the report sees the light of day.
Reg Keys, a founder of the campaign group Military Families Against the War and the father of L/Cpl Tom Keys, who was killed in Iraq in 2003, said the delay was “frustrating” and would prolong the agony of families like his.
He said: “The report was supposed to be published in 2011, when it was still a very hot potato, but by the time we eventually see it people might think it was all a long time ago and it doesn’t really matter any more.
“I can understand why Blair and a few others don’t want things to come out because there was deceit behind closed doors. But for me and the other families the delays just keep poking a wound that you’re trying to heal. “You try to put things in a box but until this is done and dusted you can’t move on.”
In July Sir John wrote to David Cameron to warn him about delays in persuading the Government to declassify “a significant volume of currently classified material” which the Inquiry has seen and wants the public to be able to see for itself.
He said his ability to publish a “balanced, fair and accurate” report was being hampered by the Cabinet Office’s refusal to allow him to publish documents on which his conclusions are based.
They included Tony Blair’s private messages to George W Bush in the run-up to the war, which are expected to show that Mr Blair promised Mr Bush Britain would back a US invasion before he had the backing of Parliament.
The documents also include intelligence papers relating to MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the Joint Intelligence Committee. Sources close to the Inquiry have told The Daily Telegraph that Sir John and the Cabinet Office are still deadlocked over some of the documents.
“The big issue still remains the inquiry’s belief that it should be able to publish documents that the Cabinet Office is still withholding,” said one source.
“Sir John is hoping to send letters out to people next summer to invite their responses to any criticisms he might intend to include in his report.
“Their responses could take weeks or months to come back, then the inquiry will have to consider whether it needs to change the wording of the report in the light of their responses. “So it’s likely to be well into the autumn before anything is published.”
So far the Inquiry has cost £6.1 million, and the extra year of information-gathering is expected to cost the public purse around £1.4m more. The five-strong panel began work in 2009, and held its last public hearing in February last year.
The final report is likely to be more than a million words long – the equivalent of ten average-length novels.
The Cabinet Office has still not disclosed a secret document relating to discussions between George Bush and Tony Blair over the Iraq war, nine months after it was ordered to do so by the Information Commissioner.
Following a Freedom of Information request from a member of the public for the disclosure of the documents, the Government decided to withhold them.
On appeal, the Commissioner ruled in March this year that it was entitled not to release the majority of the information, on the grounds that to do so risked damaging international relations, but that this was not true of one document.
The Cabinet Office was given 35 days to disclose it to the applicant, but appealed to the First-tier Tribunal – where months later it has still not been dealt with and is currently listed as “stayed”.