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
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

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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