BBC reporter defends WMD story

The BBC journalist who accused Prime Minister Tony Blair's government of "sexing up" the case for war on Iraq has defended his story.

    Andrew Gilligan's report was hotly disputed by Blair's government

    But Andrew Gilligan did admit making reporting errors during a hearing on Wednesday into the suicide of weapons' expert David Kelly.

    Gilligan, defence correspondent for BBC radio's Today programme,

    met Kelly in a London hotel a week before his 29 May report, alleging

    that a September 2002 dossier on Iraq and weapons of mass

    destruction had been embellished.

    The dossier included a headline claim that Saddam Hussein could

    deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.

    Downing Street hotly disputed the report, triggering a fierce

    row with the public broadcaster, as the Ministry of Defence exposed

    Kelly as its source.

    Disputed report

    Kelly said the 45-minute claim was "unreliable" and had

    been included in the dossier against the wishes of some in the

    intelligence community, Gilligan told the inquiry.

    However, Gilligan admitted he had been at fault in reporting

    the intelligence community's misgivings over the dossier had

    been made known to the government.

    He also acknowledged he had made "slips of the tongue"

    during a live broadcast, including describing the scientist - a

    Ministry of Defence consultant - as an "intelligence service

    source".

    Kelly killed himself after being 
    exposed by the Ministry of

    Defence

    Kelly's body was found with a slit wrist on 18 July, a week

    after the Ministry of Defence confirmed he was the source of

    Gilligan's report.

    Gilligan has kept a low profile since he first gave evidence on 12 

    August, and is no longer heard on Today, a morning public

    affairs show loved by Britain's political class.

    Sceptical public

    Other witnesses being recalled by Hutton include Defence

    Secretary Geoff Hoon and Blair's former communications adviser and

    close aide Alastair Campbell, both of whom are to appear next

    Monday.

    In an article in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Gilligan named

    Campbell as the man responsible for beefing up the September

    dossier, which was a key part of Blair's efforts to get a sceptical

    British public to back the Iraq war.

    Campbell denies the allegation, and a report last week by the

    Intelligence and Security Committee, the parliamentary panel that

    oversees British intelligence, concluded the dossier had not

    been embellished.

    Gilligan told the inquiry on Wednesday that Kelly clearly stated

    the transformation of the dossier was Campbell's responsibility.

    Hutton expects to wind up his hearings on 25 September, after

    which he will retire to write up his findings

    .

    SOURCE: AFP


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