BBC on defensive over accusations of misleading report

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The Independent Online

The BBC's disclosure that David Kelly was its main source for the Iraq dossier story immediately made it a target of ferocious attacks by the Government's allies.

The blame game shifted to the BBC just 24 hours after Tony Blair, his director of communications Alastair Campbell, and cabinet ministers had come in for bitter criticism over the death of the civil servant.

The row began on 29 May when the BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan claimed on Radio 4's Today programme that the dossier had been "transformed in the week before it was published to make it sexier".

The main accusation against the BBC and Mr Gilligan was that they had misled the public over the source of their information. This was vehemently denied by the corporation. Critics claimed that Mr Gilligan had said that his informant was an "intelligence" source, rather than Dr Kelly, a middle-ranking scientific civil servant.

But Mr Gilligan has always maintained that he was careful to describe his source as a "senior official involved in drawing up the dossier". It transpired yesterday that the mention of an "intelligence source", seized on by the Government, was by Richard Sambrook, the BBC's head of news, before he had been given Dr Kelly's details by Mr Gilligan.

Last night the BBC issued a statement on behalf of Mr Gilligan. It said: "I want to make it clear that I did not misquote or misrepresent Dr David Kelly.

"Entirely separately from my meeting with him, Dr Kelly expressed very similar concerns about the Downing Street interpretation of intelligence in the dossier and the unreliability of the 45-minute point to Newsnight. These reports have never been questioned by Downing Street.

"Although Dr Kelly had close connections with the intelligence community none of our reports ever described him as a member of the intelligence services, but as a senior official closely involved in the preparation of the dossier."

There are believed to have been serious reservations among some senior BBC staff over the timing of the declaration about Dr Kelly. They argued that as well as removing Downing Street from the firing line, there will be anger about naming the scientist when he was no longer there to defend himself. There was also growing unease among BBC journalists about the naming of Dr Kelly, and what the future held. However, a senior BBC executive dismissed suggestions that heads may roll. He said: "We had taken a robust stand on this matter, and although changing circumstances had led to our announcement about Dr Kelly, we continue to be robust."

Both Greg Dyke, the director-general, and Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the board of governors, were said to have been adamant about the matter. The corporation stressed that the statement was made after consultation with Dr Kelly's family.

In a statement read outside Broadcasting House at 11.28am, Mr Sambrook spoke about the BBC's "deep regret" over Dr Kelly's death, but insisted that it was "right to put Dr Kelly's views in the public domain".

Mr Sambrook added that the BBC would co-operate fully with the judicial inquiry into Dr Kelly's death and provide full details about contacts between the civil servant and two journalists - Mr Gilligan and Susan Watts, science correspondent on the Newsnight programme, who had reported a similar story about the dossier.

Within minutes of the statement being issued, critics were lining up to attack the BBC. One of the most vociferous, Gerald Kaufman, who chairs the Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, repeatedly accused the BBC of misrepresenting Dr Kelly as an intelligence source.

"What the BBC did was launch one of the most relentless campaigns ever conducted on a premise they now accept was not so. If anyone should resign, then the people in the BBC should consider their position," he said.

Mr Kaufman said the BBC should be brought under the new Ofcom communications watchdog. He added: "We wait for the inquiry in terms of what happened leading up to Dr Kelly's death, but I believe that we do not wait to consider the whole way in which the BBC runs its affairs, runs its journalism and is governed ... The BBC has behaved deplorably and there are serious implications for its future."

Donald Anderson, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, maintained there was a "fundamental conflict" between the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee by Mr Gilligan and Dr Kelly in the "key particulars in the role of the source".

Dr Kelly's constituency MP, Robert Jackson, a Tory, demanded that Mr Davies, Mr Sambrook and Mr Gilligan should all resign. He continued "I believe the BBC are responsible for his death. If they had made this statement before his suicide I don't believe he would have died."

The broadcaster Tom Mangold, a friend of Dr Kelly, said he believed the scientist provided about "60 per cent" of Mr Gilligan's story. "Where is the supporting evidence? It did not come from Kelly, where did it come from?" But he added: "I don't think the other sources should be revealed. That would be the end of investigative journalism. The BBC has been behaving in an odd way. I don't understand why the editor-in-chief came on so strong."

In her report on 2 June, Ms Watts said: "The Government's insistence the Iraqi threat was imminent was a Downing Street interpretation of intelligence conclusions." Chillingly, in the light of future events, she went on: "We cannot name this person because their livelihood depends on anonymity." Her reports failed to attract the accusations that were levelled against Mr Gilligan.

But by then, the row had been stoked. John Reid, who was then Leader of the Commons, lambasted the BBC on the Today programme over the "misrepresentations", and blamed "rogue agents" of the intelligence services for the leaks. Mr Reid suggested that Mr Gilligan's source could have been a man in a pub.

The presenter, John Humphrys, responded: "I rather think people like Andrew Gilligan can distinguish between an intelligence officer and a man in a pub."

A letter sent to the BBC by Mr Campbell on 26 June highlighted Mr Sambrook's reference to the source as being "in the intelligence services".

The corporation said yesterday Mr Sambrook was not aware at the time of Dr Kelly's identity - and had admitted to the error.

Nevertheless, the letter and its demands for a swift response prompted Mr Sambrook to accuse Downing Street of putting "unprecedented pressure" on the BBC.

He accused the Government of pursuing a vendetta against Mr Gilligan. The board of governors also backed the Gilligan report before the MoD unmasked Dr Kelly.

BBC'S STATEMENT YESTERDAY

The BBC deeply regrets the death of Dr David Kelly. We had the greatest respect for his achievements in Iraq and elsewhere over many years and wish once again to express our condolences to his family.

There has been much speculation about whether Dr Kelly was the source for the 'Today' programme report by Andrew Gilligan on 29 May. Having now informed Dr Kelly's family, we can confirm that Dr Kelly was the principal source for both Andrew Gilligan's report and for Susan Watts' reports on 'Newsnight' on 2 and 4 June. The BBC believes we accurately interpreted and reported the factual information obtained by us during interviews with Dr Kelly.

Over the past few weeks we have been at pains to protect Dr Kelly being identified as the source of these reports. We clearly owed him a duty of confidentiality. Following his death, we now believe, in order to end the continuing speculation, it is important to release this information as swiftly as possible. We did not release it until this morning at the request of Dr Kelly's family.

The BBC will fully co-operate with the Government's inquiry. We will make a full and frank submission to Lord Hutton and will provide full details of all the contacts between Dr Kelly and the two journalists, including contemporaneous notes and other materials made by both journalists, independently.

We believe we were right to place Dr Kelly's views in the public domain. However, the BBC is profoundly sorry that his involvement as our source has ended so tragically.

PREVIOUS BBC STATEMENTS

Andrew Gilligan, 19 June, to Foreign Affairs Committee: "He is a source of long standing, well known to me, closely connected with the question of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, easily sufficiently senior and credible to be worth reporting."

Richard Sambrook, head of news, 27 June, in a letter to Alastair Campbell: "The allegation was made by a senior official involved in the compilation of the dossier - and the BBC stands by the reporting of it."

Gavyn Davies, chairman of board of governors, 6 July, reading BBC governors' statement: "Although the guidelines say that the BBC should be reluctant to broadcast stories based on a single source, and warn about the dangers of using anonymous sources, they clearly allow for this to be done in exceptional circumstances. Stories based on intelligence sources are a case in point."

BBC statement, 9 July, after MoD announcement on "mole".

"The description of the individual contained in the statement does not match Mr Gilligan's source in some important ways. Mr Gilligan's source does not work in the Ministry of Defence."

Andrew Gilligan, 20 July:

"Although Dr Kelly had close connections with the intelligence community none of our reports ever described him as a member of the intelligence services, but as a senior official closely involved in the preparation of the dossier."

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