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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
How BBC handled Iraq dossier row
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BBC's official stance hid concern behind the scenes
The BBC has been a central player in the row over the government's Iraq weapons dossier since Andrew Gilligan reported claims it had been "sexed up" on Radio 4's Today programme.

The Hutton Inquiry has now shed an enormous amount of light on how the report was put together and dealt with after it was broadcast and how the governors, the BBC's ruling body, reacted behind the scenes.

Who said what during Andrew Gilligan's meeting with David Kelly?

If confusion surrounds when the reporter and scientist first met - Mr Gilligan says early 2001, Dr Kelly believed it was September 2002 - it pales in significance compared to the debate over who said what at their crucial meeting on 22 May 2003.

The meeting led directly to Mr Gilligan reporting claims that the government, and more specifically Alastair Campbell, had "sexed up" September's Iraq dossier with the assertion weapons of mass destruction could be launched in 45 minutes.

When he gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 15 July, Dr Kelly said Mr Gilligan was the first to mention both the 45 minutes claim and Mr Campbell.

That was backed up by Dr Kelly's friend Olivia Bosch in her evidence to the Hutton Inquiry, when she referred to Mr Gilligan playing a "name game" at the meeting.

Dr Kelly's daughter Rachel said her father was "incredulous" that Mr Gilligan made such "forceful claims" based on their conversation.

In a Ministry of Defence security interview on 4 July, Dr Kelly claimed he did not even realise Mr Gilligan's news report was based on their meeting.

And Mr Gilligan has conceded to the Hutton Inquiry that Dr Kelly "adopted" his use of the word "sexier", although in evidence to parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee on 16 July, Dr Kelly appears to suggest it was "possible" he used the word first.

But the BBC reporter was adamant in his inquiry evidence that Dr Kelly was the first to raise the 45 minute issue and to use the word "Campbell", and that he even checked his quotes back with the scientist before they parted.

How did Dr Kelly get asked about his contacts with Susan Watts?

What Dr Kelly did not know during his evidence to MPs on 15 July was that two of its members had been briefed by Mr Gilligan, who had himself already appeared before them.

In an e-mail forwarded to Liberal Democrat David Chidgey, Mr Gilligan suggests questions for Dr Kelly that, he said, could prove "devastating" for the government.

He also names Dr Kelly as the source who told Newsnight colleague Susan Watts the 45 minute claim had been "seized on" and "got out of all proportion" by those writing the September dossier.

At the time the BBC was publicly not naming Dr Kelly as the source for any of its stories, and in the same e-mail Mr Gilligan said as far as the identity of his own source was concerned "we are not ruling anyone in or out".

However, Mr Gilligan subsequently submitted a fresh written statement to the inquiry, which reportedly says he was not sure Dr Kelly was Ms Watts' source.

How did the Today programme handle the story?

Documents submitted to the inquiry have revealed how even on the same day Mr Gilligan's report went out, the Today programme started looking back at how it was handled.

The catalyst was Downing Street complaining that, not only was the story wrong, it was not given a chance to respond in advance and its denials, when volunteered, were ignored.

Today editor Kevin Marsh, in an e-mail to the head of radio news Stephen Mitchell, was adamant the story was not "in any way false" and equally adamant that, although Downing Street had not been contacted for a response in advance, the Ministry of Defence had.

But the MoD was also unhappy, believing it was not told about the substance of Mr Gilligan's report when Today contacted it the evening before broadcast.

The BBC rejected that claim too, with director of news Richard Sambrook detailing in a letter on 29 June a series of phone calls he said were made to the MoD on 28 May that culminated in confirmation that Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram would respond to Mr Gilligan's "WMD" report the next morning.

When Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon met Mr Sambrook 11 days later, the MoD's minutes record Mr Sambrook as accepting fault on the issue and apologising.

But in evidence to the inquiry, the BBC executive said he had only offered to apologise if the BBC was found to be at fault.

At the same meeting with the defence secretary, the minutes record Mr Sambrook speculating on Mr Gilligan's future, saying "we are thinking about the best use for Andrew" without taking him off Today.

Backing for Mr Gilligan was strong the day after his report, when his editor sent an e-mail praising him for his "great week, great stories, well handled and well told".

On 9 June, as the full-blown row between the BBC and the government was getting underway, Mr Marsh remarked in an e-mail how Alastair Campbell was "on the run. Or gone bonkers. Or both".

But 18 days later, in another e-mail to Mr Mitchell, the Today editor describes Mr Gilligan's story as "a good piece of investigative journalism marred by flawed reporting". Changes to his working practices were also mooted.

Yet the same day, 27 June, Mr Sambrook mounted a stout defence of Mr Gilligan's reporting in a letter to Alastair Campbell, and in evidence to the inquiry said the "flawed reporting" remark was not the BBC's "considered view".

How did the BBC's governors deal with the row?

In a 29 June e-mail seeking governors' views on the row, BBC chairman Gavyn Davies made clear his determination not to "buckle in the face of government pressure", saying it was a moment for the governors to "stand and be counted".

In reply most governors expressed support, but minutes of their emergency meeting a week later reveal a number of reservations.

Most notably there was a suggestion they should not offer immediate support to the BBC's management but should instead begin a review of the corporation's war coverage using outside experts led by Director General Greg Dyke.

Some governors apparently wondered whether Today had been "na´ve" to broadcast the item without expecting a powerful reaction, and should therefore have been "more careful" in consulting the government beforehand.

It emerged during the inquiry that the governors had also not been made aware of Kevin Marsh's e-mail referring to Mr Gilligan's "flawed reporting", although in an echo of his director of news, Mr Davies justified it on the grounds it was not the "considered judgment" of BBC News.

In the end the governors' 6 July statement reflected some of the concerns - for example, that 10 Downing Street should have been asked for a response before Mr Gilligan's report went out - but otherwise fully backed the corporation's journalists and managers.

The next day Tony Blair and Gavyn Davies spoke on the phone in a failed attempt to broker peace. The following morning in a speech Greg Dyke appealed for both sides to "agree to disagree" but hours later the MoD revealed one of its officials had come forward admitting contact with Mr Gilligan, and the controversy was re-ignited.

Meanwhile some governors' worries continued behind the scenes. One, former Joint Intelligence Committee chairman Pauline Neville-Jones, conducted her own research into Dr Kelly and concluded the governors' 6 July statement was wrong to describe him as a "senior intelligence source".

In his 14 July reply to her, Gavyn Davies reveals how the phrase was erroneously inserted "at the last minute by a PR person - the way of the world!".

He concedes the statement was drafted in haste, having earlier - in an e-mail to governors on 7 July - justified speed on the grounds of meeting newspaper deadlines.

The internal misgivings continued, with minutes of a governors' meeting on 17 July recording concern about BBC journalists as "news creators" rather than reporters.

The director general warned them against assuming such journalists could not be impartial.

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