SIR John Chilcot has again defied calls to set a timetable for publication of the Iraq Inquiry report – insisting he must make sure it is “fair”.

The inquiry chairman said he understood the “anguish” of families who lost loved ones in the conflict, but argued that the probe was “unprecedented” in its scope.

He also defended the controversial Maxwellisation process, which means the inquiry seeks responses from everyone facing criticism before its conclusions are published.

The statement came amid renewed pressure to explain why the report has yet to emerge, six years after it was first commissioned by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

However, Chilcot’s justification was immediately rejected by bereaved families, who have been threatening legal action to force him to publish.

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed in a bomb attack in 2004, said: “Chilcot says he understands the anguish of the families, but he’s not the one going to bed and having nightmares, dreaming about it every night.”

Meanwhile, Reg Keys, whose son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed in Iraq in 2003, said both he and other families had run out of patience and would seek a judicial review.

Lawyers acting for 29 families of soldiers killed in Iraq had given Chilcot a 5pm deadline to announce that he would deliver his report by the end of December.

Keys said they would now seek a judicial review after Chilcot failed to reveal a timetable for publication.

He said: “My wife died two years ago, she didn’t know the findings of this report.

“How many other families and loved ones will we lose without finding the results.

“He has had adequate funding, that delay is borderline unlawful, so we will seek a judicial review to see if the courts can press Sir John under the legal channels for a timeframe to complete before the end of this year.”

Roger Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon was killed in Iraq in 2005, said he was “disappointed” Chilcot had still not set a timetable for publication and accused him of failing to understand the families’ anguish.

Bacon said: “He should just get on with it. I’m not sure he is able to understand our anguish.

“If he was in our shoes, he might well take a different view on what is going on. It’s a dark cloud sat over our heads.” Bacon said the process of Maxwellisation was taking far too long.

“The fact he is still waiting for responses means there will be further delays. I understand he wants to be accurate but there are limits. I’m disappointed. I had hoped they would have given a deadline.

“It’s open-ended and doesn’t say when it’s going to happen.”

Chilcot said in a statement that Maxwellisation was “essential” to ensure that “conclusions drawn by the inquiry are robust and that any criticism included in the final report is soundly based, fair and reasonable”.

“The Maxwellisation process is essential not only to the fairness but also the accuracy and completeness of our report.”

“It has already led, for example, to the identification of government documents which had not been submitted to the inquiry and which have in some cases opened up new issues.”

He said the inquiry expected to receive the last Maxwellisation responses “shortly” and would then be able to produce a timetable for the report.

“That will allow us to complete our consideration of the responses, to decide what further work will be needed, and to provide the Prime Minister and thus Parliament and the public with a timetable for the publication of our work,” he said.

Clare Short, Labour’s international development secretary at the time of the war, said she did not believe the report was being held up by the Maxwellisation process.

She said all of those criticised had to reply to the inquiry within a deadline of a few weeks, which passed “a long time ago”, and claimed Sir John was probably having to redraft the report as the current version is “very poor”.

The National View, August 27: A scandal without end