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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 August, 2003, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
Campbell resolute over dossier row
Alastair Campbell
Campbell arrives at the inquiry

Downing Street press chief Alastair Campbell has said Dr David Kelly could have been better protected from the media spotlight which fell upon him in the days before his death.

Mr Campbell said with hindsight things could have been handled differently, but added that the weapons expert was thought to be a "very strong resolute character... who had been in many difficult stressful circumstances".

In his evidence to Lord Hutton's inquiry into Dr Kelly's apparent suicide, the communications director defended his role in preparing last September's government dossier about the threat posed by Iraq.

He (Dr Kelly) should be asked what kind of threat Iraq was in September 2002 and if he was able to answer frankly, it should be devastating

He insisted he had "no input, output, influence... at any stage" in the government dossier's claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

Instead, he said, he had insisted at every stage that the credibility of the dossier rested on it being the work of intelligence officials, whose boss was told he had to be "100% happy" with it.

Mr Campbell has always denied he or anyone in Downing Street "sexed up" September 2002's dossier on Iraq's weapons to help make the case for war.

Dr Kelly was the source for a story by reporter Andrew Gilligan which made that claim on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The communication director's evidence is a key part in building a picture of the events leading up to the apparent suicide of government scientist Dr Kelly last month.

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said Mr Campbell will have been seen as having performed well in front of the inquiry.

He said the press chief's argument that none of the people whose e-mails have been shown to the inquiry were significant figures in drawing up the dossier would be hard to challenge.

Other key points include:

  • Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's initial reaction to Dr Kelly admitting his contacts with Mr Gilligan was that it was "a serious disciplinary matter and had clearly caused the government considerable difficulty and embarrassment"

  • Mr Campbell revealed his fury at the BBC's answer to his complaints: "I felt my response was angry, and probably too angry"

  • In September 2002 the prime minister wanted a dossier produced as he wanted the public to realise Iraq's "unique threat"

  • Mr Campbell told the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett to make the dossier "drier" and "cut the rhetoric"

  • Mr Campbell's diary refers to the "ghastly Gilligan story" saying "it was grim. Grim for me and grim for TB (Tony Blair) and there is huge stuff about trust"

  • He felt his almost unprecedented decision to face public questioning by MPs helped to "open up a flank" on the BBC and force it to defend itself in public

  • Former BBC director general John Birt, now a Downing Street policy adviser, told Mr Campbell the whole thing was terrible for the BBC, because everybody knew the story was wrong

  • Mr Gilligan wrote an email to Greg Simpson, apparently part of the secretariat supporting the Liberal Democrats, which appeared to suggest questions for Dr Kelly's appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr Campbell said that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon thought Dr Kelly was probably telling the truth in saying he did not make all the reported claims and his words had been exaggerated by Mr Gilligan.

DOSSIER TIMELINE
Easter 2002: Original dossier on Iraq and three other countries dropped
3 September: Tony Blair announces there will be a dossier on the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
5 September: Campbell's first meeting about the dossier
9 September: Campbell tells intelligence chief John Scarlett he must be "100% happy" with dossier
11 September: Tony Blair sees dossier for first time
12 September: Senior intelligence officers show new material "too secret" to go into the dossier
16 September: Draft of Blair's foreword ready
17 September: Number 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell warns that must make clear Iraq cannot attack UK now
24 September: Dossier published

Asked by Lord Hutton about the pressure Dr Kelly was exposed to by his being named as the source, Mr Campbell said: "The media was in full pursuit of the story and it was going to happen. I am afraid that is just the way of the world we are in".

He was party to some of Tony Blair's talks about whether to identify Dr Kelly, but said he had done nothing to make his name public.

He said that bearing in mind Dr Kelly's background "I just do not think it crossed anybody's mind that it might take the turn it did".

Earlier, the inquiry heard how some Number 10 officials had voiced concerns last September that the dossier preparations had a "long way to go" and that drafts were muddled.

Just a week before the dossier's publication, Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell wrote in an email: "You need to make it clear that Saddam could not attack us at the moment."

HUTTON INQUIRY
Set up after apparent suicide of Dr David Kelly in July
Dr Kelly was government expert in Iraq weapons programmes
He was named as source of controversial BBC report
Report alleged government had 'sexed up' a dossier on Iraq's weapons capability
Government denies the allegations

Mr Campbell, who braved a noisy anti-war protest on his way into the central London hearing, said he had first seen a draft of the dossier on 5 September at a meeting he had chaired on the proposed document.

An offer from the Foreign Office's press chief to write the dossier was rejected John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who took charge of writing the dossier.

Newspaper reports had suggested some intelligence officers were unhappy over the dossier.

But Mr Scarlett had said: "There may well be people down the ranks who are unhappy with this but you have to know this is not the view of people at the top."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nicholas Witchell
"Throughout his four-and-a-half hours in the witness box, Mr Campbell's manner was measured"



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