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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 16:09 GMT
Panorama's tricky Hutton task

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It is always hugely difficult to write up history while it is still happening.

Dr David Kelly
Dr Kelly gave an interview on WMD
So Panorama was taking on a huge task in attempting to piece together the events surrounding the David Kelly affair before Lord Hutton's report into it had been published.

Yet, as one of those who witnessed at close hand the events which led to the tragic death of David Kelly, the programme broadcast on Wednesday night overwhelmingly succeeds in chopping away the undergrowth and exposing the core issues and developments at the centre of the affair.

And it will not have been easy viewing for many of those involved in it.

There are moments in the 85 minute piece which will have been deeply uncomfortable, to say the least, for BBC bosses, reporter Andrew Gilligan, Tony Blair, former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and chief spook John Scarlett.

Imminent threat

There were no major revelations but, presumably, that is not what it was all about.

It was about attempting to create a coherent narrative out of a hugely complex, twisting and contradictory series of events.

Yes, there is a threat
Dr David Kelly in previously unbroadcast interview

The fact that it also succeeded in making riveting television is a bonus.

None the less, there are two significant new interviews contained in the programme.

One was a previously-recorded but unused interview with Dr Kelly himself in which he repeated his belief that Saddam Hussein's weapons posed an imminent threat, but that it could have taken "days or weeks" to deploy them.

The other, possibly more significant, was with former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee between 1992-93, Sir Roderic Braithwaite.

His successor John Scarlett "took ownership" of the dossier which was used by the prime minister to make his case against Saddam Hussein.

Sexing up

Sir Roderic said it had always been important that the JIC, which advises the prime minister on intelligence matters, retained its independence from Downing Street.

During this affair, it appeared the JIC had joined the "magic circle" that surrounded the prime minister, he said.

The Panorama programme concludes that Mr Gilligan was "on to something" but it "was wrong to say anyone in No 10 ordered the intelligence services to put anything into the dossier" and far less any material it knew was probably wrong.

So the question of whether the weapons dossier was "sexed up" remains the single biggest question at the centre of the Hutton inquiry.

Panorama's "A fight to the death" may not have answered that question, but it quite possibly helped provide a wider understanding of the forces at work.


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