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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Journalist accused over dossier story
BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan
The BBC stands by Gilligan's reporting of his source
BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan has been accused of changing his story when giving evidence to MPs over his report that No 10 "sexed up" an Iraqi weapons dossier.

The Radio 4 Today programme defence correspondent appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee in private to again discuss his allegations against Downing Street press chief Alastair Campbell.

Committee chairman Donald Anderson said: "Mr Gilligan clearly changed his mind in the course of the evidence, in particular in relation to serious allegations concerning Mr Campbell."

But in a statement, the BBC utterly rejected the allegations and accused the committee of a personal attack on Mr Gilligan.

And Mr Gilligan himself said he had been ambushed, and was still sticking by his original story.

Mr Gilligan was described as "an unsatisfactory witness" after giving evidence to the committee.

Mr Anderson said there was a grave danger of unfairness to Mr Campbell in regard to the allegation he had pushed for the insertion into a dossier of a warning that Iraq could launch chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes.

This was an ambush by a hanging jury with only one opposition member present for the relevant section of the meeting
Andrew Gilligan
In a written report to House of Commons issued on Thursday evening, the committee said witnesses using parliamentary privilege - which protects against libel - to make accusations should be required to name their sources.

Mr Gilligan and the BBC have always refused to name the source of the allegation about Mr Campbell.

The prime minister's official spokesman said the FAC's statement "underlines once again that all the questions are now for the BBC to answer".

"It should answer those questions rather than criticise a parliamentary committee for expressing a view it does not like."

Committee member John Maples, who was on holiday and missed the hearing, attacked his colleagues' findings.

"It appears to have been used to undermine Mr Gilligan's evidence," he said.

I have been told what the apparent inconsistencies are and they do not seem inconsistencies to me
John Maples MP
FAC member

"I have been told what the apparent inconsistencies are and they do not seem inconsistencies to me."

"I want to completely disassociate myself from this," he added.

The BBC statement said: "Mr Gilligan has not changed his story as he repeated several times to the committee.

"The committee launched a series of personal attacks on Mr Gilligan in an atmosphere which was largely hostile."

The BBC said it resented the way the committee "was used to attack the integrity of Mr Gilligan", and believed MPs were unsuccessful in finding fault with the journalist's story.

"Mr Gilligan defended his journalism with vigour pointing out among other things that many of his source's allegations have now been corroborated by other evidence," the statement said.

Mr Gilligan himself said he had not changed his story and suggested Mr Anderson had "deliberately misinterpreted" his evidence.

"This was an ambush by a hanging jury with only one opposition member present for the relevant section of the meeting."

He told BBC News 24: "The questioning was unremittingly hostile. The government members had clearly been supplied with ammunition to use against me."

Mr Gilligan said not one iota of his position had changed.

Mixed conclusions

The MPs decided to recall Mr Gilligan after government weapons adviser David Kelly, the official named by the Ministry of Defence as the source of Mr Gilligan's story, said he was the wrong man.

The committee also thinks it is "most unlikely" that Dr Kelly was the "mole" - with one MP describing him instead as the government's "fall guy".

Mr Gilligan reported in May that a senior British official had told him that a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme had been "sexed up" at the request of Downing Street.

The source said he believed a claim in the dossier - that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons which could be deployed 45 minutes after an order to do so - was unreliable.

And Mr Gilligan said his source told him that Tony Blair's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, was responsible for transforming the way the intelligence services' information had been presented in the dossier.

David Kelly, government weapons proliferation adviser
David Kelly says he wanted Gilligan's views on Iraq
The foreign affairs committee reported that the "jury is still out" on the case for war in Iraq.

But it cleared Mr Campbell of "sexing up" the dossier.

Amid rowdy scenes in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Tony Blair challenged the BBC to say whether or not Dr Kelly was Mr Gilligan's source.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told Mr Blair that unless he sacked Mr Campbell "nobody will believe a word you say".

But MPs voted by 299 to 200 against calls for a judicial probe, which Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said would take years and cost up to 30m.

The BBC has repeatedly said it will not disclose the identity of journalists' sources.




WATCH AND LISTEN
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"This bitter row shows no sign of going away"



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