His inquiry report into the death of weapons scientist David Kelly, released on Wednesday, was widely expected to damage either the world’s most famous broadcaster or Britain’s most senior politicians.

 

In the end, the report exonerated the government of exaggerating intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons arsenal in the build up to last year’s war on Iraq.

 

It also cleared Downing St of any wrongdoing in the apparent suicide of Kelly - who the BBC claimed had said the government knowingly “sexed up” its pre-war intelligence.

 

BBC condemned

 

The BBC came off much worse.

 

Lord Hutton criticised the organisation for wrongly reporting Kelly's alleged claim, and questioned its editorial processes.

 

Kelly killed himself after being
named as the BBC source

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the allegations levelled against him by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan were extremely serious - effectively accusing him of lying to parliament and the public.

 

And now that Lord Hutton has backed his version of events, the repercussions for the reputation and very independence of the BBC are immense.

 

'Sexed-up' intelligence

 

David Kelly was a scientist at the UK Ministry of Defence and a top microbiologist who had visited Iraq dozens of times.

 

He hit the headlines in July 2003 after the British government named him as a possible source for a BBC report that alleged Downing Street had "sexed up" a dossier on Iraq's WMDs.

 

The government fiercely denied the allegation and accused the BBC of poor journalisim.  

 

But the BBC backed its reporter, and said the government was using the issue as a smokescreen to avoid the failure to find WMDs in Iraq.

 

The government then named Kelly as the source for the story. Shortly after he was quizzed by MPs on the issue his body was found near his Oxfordshire home.

 

Tony Blair feels vindicated by the
Hutton report

Tony Blair immediately ordered an inquiry into his death and tasked Lord Hutton with determining the veracity of the BBC's story and whether anyone was to blame for Kelly's death. 

 

Damaged reputation

 

After Lord Hutton reported his findings, the consensus was that the government came out smelling of roses.

 

It was exonerated of all the main charges and was only mildly rebuked for not giving Kelly enough support after releasing his name to the media.

 

But the Hutton report is extremely serious for the BBC, and has already claimed its first scalp with the resignation of chairman Gavyn Davies.

 

Politicians are already questioning whether the BBC board of governors is the right body to regulate the organisation.

But it is the damage to the BBC's reputation for fairness and balanced reporting that is most worrying for the corporation.