Facing interrogation on Tuesday at a potentially explosive inquiry, Alastair Campbell said he never sought to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to justify an unpopular war. Instead he had wanted the dossier's colourful language toned down.

   

The pugnacious media handler went so far as to say he had "no input, output (or) influence" on the dossier at any stage, despite accusations by a BBC reporter that the hype was all his.

   

"I said: 'The drier the better, cut the rhetoric'," Campbell said. "There were areas where the language was too colourful. I also said the more intelligence-based it was, the better."

 

BBC 'undermined'

   

Campbell denied he had played any role in a government decision to confirm scientist David Kelly as the probable BBC source, although he did say that it helped undermine the broadcaster's case that its story was based on a senior intelligence source.

   

"I did not do anything to bring that about because I was under strict instructions not to," he said.

 

Campbell repeated his emphatic denial that he inflated evidence about Iraq's weapons by giving undue prominence to a claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons at 45 minutes' notice.

 

Asked whether he had any influence on whether the 45-minute claim was in the dossier or not, he said: "None whatever".

 

"I said: 'The drier the better, cut the rhetoric'. There were areas where the language was too colourful. I also said the more intelligence-based it was, the better."

Alistair Campbell, Blair aide

Campbell ended his testimony, which lasted more than four hours, saying he found Kelly's death "very, very distressing" and "very, very sad".

 

The hearing was adjourned until 10:30am (0930 GMT) Wednesday when Blair's two official spokesmen were set to testify.

  

Blair and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon are also expected to testify  before the inquiry closes in a few weeks’ time.

  

Scientist Kelly had been quoted as the source of a BBC allegation that Campbell ordered the “sexing up” of the dossier to help justify the March invasion of Iraq.

  

Kelly apparently committed suicide in July, days after being grilled by two parliamentary committees after being named by the defence ministry as the likely source of the BBC allegation. The independent Hutton inquiry was ordered soon after. 

 

Meanwhile, an independent poll for the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday showed 52 percent of the public trust neither the government nor the BBC to tell the truth and that only six percent trust Blair's administration more than the public broadcaster.