FRED Butler is the son of the managing director of a paint firm. This fact, in itself, may not seem remarkably fascinating.

But it becomes more interesting when you learn that Blackpool-born Fred now goes by the more impressive title of Lord Butler of Brockwell - the man handed the task of investigating the use of intelligence in the run up to war with Iraq. It suggests that the noble lord knows a thing or two about whitewash - and the fact it can cause a sticky, lingering mess.

Ahead of this week's Butler Report, political pundit after cynical political pundit were lining up to predict the conclusions were foregone: a wash so white it could have been through a fast spin at 70'C in a Zanussi.

But those jaded commentators, expecting a repeat of the Government-friendly Hutton report, were in for a shock. True, there is enough in the report for every side in the argument - the Prime Minister, his shadowey coterie of advisors, MI6, intelligence officers, journalists, members of the public, whether pro- and anti-war - to cherry pick information to suit their own standpoints.

True, the report concludes ministers acted in "good faith". A defiant Tony Blair leapt on this in the Commons: "No one lied. No one made up intelligence." And yes, it refused to call for resignations for the intelligence glitches which led Britain into a war that has left 60 UK troops dead. Lord Butler settled for "collective responsibility". But a whitewash? No.

The bombshell report was incredibly damaging. Privately, the Government and security chiefs would have been humiliated. Lord Butler concluded the intelligence on which military action was based was "seriously flawed".

But it was presented to the public by security chiefs and the government as firm fact - with reservations omitted from the infamous September 2002 dossier.

Lord Butler discovered previously unpublished intelligence showing Saddam Hussein was not an immediate threat to this country. Claims that the dictator had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons were exaggerated by unreliable sources - yet the dossier suggested the opposite.

The notorious claim that Saddam could deploy weapons of mass destruction in only 45 minutes should never have been included in the dossier. "It was there," said Lord Butler, because it was "eye-catching." He implied the dossier and the Prime Minister misled the public by giving the impression there was "fuller and firmer intelligence" than was the case.

In September 2002, Mr Blair said Saddam posed a "serious and current threat". Lord Butler was scathing about John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee which compiled the dossier, suggesting he was put under pressure by Number 10 - including spin chief Alastair Campbell - to ensure the dossier suited its own political ends.

Effectively, Lord Butler has loaded the ammunition into the pistol, cocked the weapon and... stepped aside to let the British public decide whether to pull the trigger at the next General Election. This was billed as the toughest week of Mr Blair's leadership with the Chancellor's spending review, the publication of the Butler report and Labour's humbling in two byelections yesterday - one safe seat lost, the other held by a narrow margin.

The lack of a "killer fact" in yesterday's report meant the PM went home last night still in his job and less threatened - in the short-term.

But in the long-term there are question marks over his credibility - a point mercilessly exploited by Michael Howard. Last weekend, there were a string of leaked stories suggesting the PM was prepared to go on and on at Number 10 - a not-so-subtle attempt infuriate Gordon Brown and shatter his leadership ambitions.

Today, with trust in Mr Blair likely to be hammered mercilessly in the wake of the Butler Report, it is the Chancellor who is sitting comfortably in the box seat.

Updated: 10:04 Friday, July 16, 2004