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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
BBC news chief quizzed
Richard Sambrook, BBC news director
BBC news chief Sambrook faced detailed questioning
The BBC has admitted making mistakes in the long-running row over its report of claims that the government "sexed up" its Iraq weapons dossier.

The corporation's director of news, Richard Sambrook, took the stand for the second time at the inquiry into Dr David Kelly's apparent suicide, which came after he was named as the BBC's suspected source.

There is a world of difference, is there not, between protecting your sources by saying nothing about them and telling lies about them?
Jonathan Sumption QC
Government barrister

Mr Sambrook said there were errors in the BBC's strongly-worded response to the government's complaints about the dossier story.

He was giving evidence after BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, who broadcast the controversial story about Iraq's weapons, stood by the report, but admitted making errors in live broadcasts.

Mr Sambrook said the BBC had been under "considerable pressure" to reply to the government's points, but should have considered at greater length the charges levelled against it.

In particular, he had been wrong to say the source for the story was somebody "senior and credible" in the intelligence services.

The next day, Mr Sambrook was told for the first time that the source was Dr Kelly and it became clear he was not a member of the intelligence services.


Asked why the statement, which was repeated on other BBC broadcasts, was not corrected, he said he had faced a "dilemma".

"Clearly it would be preferable to be absolutely accurate about it but equally we had a dilemma as we didn't wish to do anything which might lead to the identification of our source," the BBC executive told the inquiry.

BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan
BBC news director Richard Sambrook

On balance, he had decided he had a greater duty of confidentiality to Dr Kelly.

He also said he had not told BBC governors that the source was not in fact a senior member of the intelligence services, but said they were not overly interested in the source's identity.

Mr Sambrook said the dossier claims should have been put to Downing Street before they were broadcast.

He said Mr Gilligan was "extremely good at finding out information, but there are sometimes questions of nuances and subtlety in how he presents it which are not all they should be".

Lord Hutton asked if it was appropriate for the BBC to rely entirely on Andrew Gilligan if serious complaints had been made about his story and his notes did not fully support that report.

Mr Sambrook said it was not possible to corroborate the story. But Mr Gilligan had been consistent when questioned and another BBC correspondent appeared to have had similar conversations.

Name game

Earlier, Mr Gilligan said he had agreed at his meeting with Dr Kelly that he would describe his source as "one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the dossier".

Mr Gilligan also told his programme editors that Dr Kelly had played a prominent role in the dossier.

But the government's QC at the inquiry, Jonathan Sumption, said: "He never said any such thing to you did he?"

BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan
Gilligan has been accused of trying to mislead MPs about his source
"Yes, he did," countered Mr Gilligan.

But he admitted a "slip of the tongue" when he talked of his "intelligence service source" when referring to Dr Kelly in a Radio Five Live broadcast.

Jeremy Gompertz, the QC acting for Dr Kelly's family, challenged Mr Gilligan's account of his conversation with the late scientist.

Mr Gompertz suggested it was Mr Gilligan, not Dr Kelly, who first mentioned the name of Downing Street media chief Alastair Campbell as they discussed who was responsible for transforming the dossier in the days before its publication.

That claim was rejected by Mr Gilligan, who also denied he had played a "name game" with Dr Kelly, something the scientist's friend Olivia Bosch had suggested.

E-mail apology

Mr Gilligan also apologised for e-mailing an MP on the committee which was looking into his BBC story about the government's presentation of its case for war with Iraq.

It was "quite wrong" of him to have suggested Dr Kelly was the source for BBC Newsnight reports about Iraqi weapons, he said, especially as he was not sure at the time who the source was.

In his defence, Mr Gilligan said he had been under "enormous pressure" when he sent the e-mail.

The BBC correspondent said Dr Kelly had not directly told him the government knew intelligence included in its dossier about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong or unreliable.

But the scientist did say the claim that such weapons were ready for use in 45 minutes was "unreliable, that it was wrong, and that it was included against our wishes".

Mr Gilligan went on: "It was a logical conclusion to draw from this that those wishes had been made known, as we now indeed know to have been the case."

The mistaken impression he gave "was not intentional, it was the kind of slip of the tongue that does happen often during live broadcasts".

The inquiry is now hearing again from MoD personnel director Richard Hatfield, who said Dr Kelly was given "outstanding" support as he prepared to be questioned by MPs.

The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"Any suggestion that ministers might have lied, rather than exaggerated, is withdrawn"

Witnessing Gilligan's evidence
17 Sep 03  |  Politics


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