Dyke's attempt to 'draw a line' under row rebuffed by Number 10

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The Independent Online

The Government, rather than the BBC, refused to back down in the row over the Iraqi arms dossier, sources within the corporation said yesterday.

BBC sources said Greg Dyke, the director general, had offered to "draw a line" under the row and the suggestion Downing Street had offered a formal truce was a "nonsense".

Mr Dyke and the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies, were said to have rejected the Government's overtures to call off the dispute before the weapons expert David Kelly was publicly identified as the source of a Radio 4 report which is at the heart of the row. Dr Kelly was found dead on Friday after apparently taking painkillers and cutting his wrist. Before his death he complained of the stress he had suffered after being questioned by MPs over his role in the Radio 4 report.

A BBC source yesterday denied claims that Mr Dyke and Mr Davies had been responsible for unnecessarily prolonging the row. He said: "Greg very clearly tried to draw a line under it at the Radio Festival [in Birmingham] after the [Commons foreign affairs] select committee meeting.

"We were patently never going to have a meeting of minds on this and felt it was time to move on. That's what we hoped would happen and clearly it didn't." The source added: "We always felt that this whole row was deeply unedifying. Even before this tragedy took place we felt no good was coming out of it for either party. It was damaging to both and irritating to the public. It was in everyone's interest to draw a line under it."

The reference was to a speech Mr Dyke gave in Birmingham at the annual Radio Festival two weeks ago when he said: "I don't want to spend too much time on this, but let me just say, whatever the background of [the Downing Street director of communications] Alastair Campbell's attack on the BBC, to criticise the reputation of all BBC journalists by publicly accusing us of lying and bias is not acceptable. I thank him for stepping back from that position yesterday."

At the time, BBC executives were confident they had beaten Downing Street to a stand-still. A BBC source reportedly commented: "It appears now that the Government has no wish to stoke this up any more."

It proved to be a false assessment. But Downing Street claims that such BBC confidence led to Mr Dyke and Mr Davies rejecting government overtures to thrash out some form of truce over the issue.

It was claimed that as Mr Dyke was delivering his speech in Birmingham, No 10 was suggesting a possible compromise, but BBC senior officials refused to co-operate.

Sources at the BBC said yesterday that although discussions were continuing between corporation executives and senior government officials, the idea of a truce meeting was "a nonsense".

One senior source said: "What is fundamental is our impartiality. If we started to do deals, our credibility would be compromised for ever."

Mr Dyke sent an e-mail yesterday to BBC staff reiterating his confidence in the position that the corporation and its senior executives had taken during the row.

Andrew Gilligan, the defence correspondent for Radio 4's Today programme and the reporter at the centre of the row, was in the office as usual yesterday.

Mr Gilligan, along with more senior colleagues, has faced calls for his resignation after the death of Dr Kelly.

The corporation's sources said that Mr Gilligan's position was secure, although he was unlikely to be in a position to do much reporting in the immediate future.

"He has got to be available for the [Lord] Hutton inquiry," they said.