BBC lines up news chief as Hutton fall guy

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The Independent Online

Senior BBC executives are lining up a middle-ranking manager to bear the brunt of an expected onslaught of criticism when the Hutton inquiry reports next week.

Stephen Mitchell, the corporation's head of radio news, has been identified as a likely fall guy because he failed to pass up the BBC's hierarchy a vital email that warned of Andrew Gilligan's "flawed reporting". The email, sent on 27 June by Kevin Marsh, Mr Gilligan's immediate boss at Radio 4's Today programme, emerged only during the inquiry hearings in August.

It detailed how Mr Gilligan's "loose use of language" had helped to undermine his report that the intelligence services were unhappy that Downing Street had "sexed up" a dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Neither Greg Dyke, the BBC's director-general, nor Richard Sambrook, its director of news, were aware of the warning when they urged governors to stand by the story on 6 June, however.

Will Wyatt, a former BBC chief executive of broadcasting, writing in The Independent on Sunday today, highlights managers' failure to pass on the concerns as a key mistake in the affair. But Mr Mitchell's decision not to alert his superiors has given them a survival route, according to senior staff at the corporation.

Meanwhile, Mr Gilligan has warned managers that if they force him to resign in the wake of the Hutton inquiry, he will reveal how they helped him "out" David Kelly.

Mr Gilligan faces particular censure for leaking to MPs information that helped to identify the scientist as the source of his report.

Friends of the journalist claim, however, that - if he is cut adrift by BBC bosses - he will reveal how he was pressured by managers to contact MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The former Today reporter is likely to be seriously criticised in a BBC documentary on the Kelly affair, which is expected to be screened next Sunday. The investigative reporter John Ware will launch a fierce attack on both the BBC and the Government in "Fight to the Death", a Panorama special.

Further report, page 6, Comment, page 21