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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 June, 2003, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
New twist in Iraq dossier row
BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan
Gilligan stands by his story
The BBC journalist at the centre of a row over reports that Number 10 "sexed up" its first dossier on Iraq has himself threatened to take legal action.

The BBC's defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan, says comments made about him by the deputy leader of the Commons, Phil Woolas, are untrue.

Mr Gilligan, who works for BBC Radio 4's Today programme demands an apology, saying the comments were an attempt to "blacken" his name.

Mr Woolas claimed Mr Gilligan had been misleading when giving evidence to the foreign affairs select committee, and that his story about the first dossier was untrue.

Health Secretary John Reid again called on the BBC to justify its allegations during an appearance on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost.

Meanwhile several Labour backbenchers have expressed disquiet at the fall-out from the on-going row.

Stalemate

Some have publicly questioned the position of the prime minister's communications director Alastair Campbell, with several concerned at the level of power he wields.

Others are saying the row discredits both the government and the BBC alike.

The situation has reached a stalemate, with the BBC staunchly defending its journalism, while ministers and Downing Street's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, are demanding apologies for "untrue" statements.

Environment minister Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist, claimed a report on the Today programme, suggesting the government exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq, broke corporation guidelines.

The Fisheries Minister also said a claim by presenter John Humphreys, that the Ministry of Defence had been told of the story the day before it was broadcast, was "untrue".

Alastair Campbell

The BBC has backed Mr Humphrys, pointing out Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram was fully briefed on the issue when it was put to him the following day.

Joining the argument, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said his department had not had advance notice of the story.

He said: "I strongly support the request to the BBC to correct [Saturday] morning's misleading comments. They are simply not true."

Mr Campbell took the unusual step of giving a live interview on Channel 4 News on Friday to hit back at the corporation after receiving a letter from the BBC's director of news Richard Sambrook, accusing him of intimidatory tactics.

Mr Campbell told Channel 4 News: "The BBC should acknowledge they have made a mistake and then should apologise to the government."

Mr Sambrook said the corporation had nothing to apologise for, and has set out its position in the letter to Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell's defence was to attack the BBC
William Parsons, UK

But Mr Bradshaw said the letter failed to address Downing Street's assertion that the BBC had failed to back up its central allegation, that the threat from Iraq was exaggerated by the government.

He also denied the government's attack on the BBC was a smokescreen to divert attention away from the issue of Iraqi weapons.

The minister said he was confident the government's claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes would be vindicated by the two inquiries which are investigating the issue.

'Dodgy dossier'

Mr Gilligan's report last month sparked the row by claiming a senior intelligence official told him Downing Street had asked that extra emphasis be given in the dossier to the 45 minute claim.

The Commons foreign affairs select committee has been investigating the use of intelligence by government in considering the case for war.

Mr Campbell had already told the committee the 45 minutes claim was in the "very first draft" of September's dossier.

The September dossier was one of two issued by the government on Iraq.

The second - the so-called "dodgy dossier" - released this year, plagiarised an academic work.

Mr Campbell apologised to MPs on the select committee earlier this week for that mistake.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Wilenius
"Alastair Campbell will have to wait at least a week for the committee's verdict on his role in preparing the dossier"



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