Gilligan threat to expose BBC bosses if forced out

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The Independent Online

BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan has warned his managers that he will reveal their role in the "outing" of David Kelly if he is forced to resign as a result of the Hutton report.

The journalist fears he is to be scapegoated by the corporation if, as expected, Lord Hutton is highly critical of the BBC when his report into the circumstances surrounding the death of the weapons scientist is published next week.

Mr Gilligan faces particular censure for leaking to MPs the information that Dr Kelly had spoken to Susan Watts, another BBC reporter who reported officials' doubts over a Downing Street dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The leak helped identify the weapons scientist as the source of his own report. In it, he said that the intelligence services were unhappy about the dossier which they feared exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Dr Kelly committed suicide two days after he was challenged by the Foreign Affairs Committee over his contacts with Mr Gilligan and other BBC journalists.

Greg Dyke, the director general of the BBC, denounced Mr Gilligan's email to MPs on the committee as "unacceptable" when he was called to give evidence to the inquiry.

The journalist, however, has told friends that managers at the corporation had asked him to contact David Chidgey, the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh, and Richard Ottaway, the Conservative MP for Croydon South.

"It's something that was never really explored by Hutton, the extent to which managers knew, and indeed were encouraging, what was going on," said one last night.

Mr Gilligan has already had discussions with a number of publishers about a tell-all book, should he be sacked or demoted in the wake of the Hutton inquiry.

He already faces censure from within the BBC when it screens a documentary on the affair. The Panorama programme, "Fight to the Death", divides its fire between both the Government and the BBC, according to those who have seen it.

"It is pretty robust about two institutions that are supposed to set great store by the truth," said one source of the 80-minute programme to be shown before the Hutton report is published, probably a week tomorrow.

Another possible casualty is Stephen Mitchell, the BBC's head of radio news, who infuriated his superiors by failing to pass up the corporation hierarchy an internal email detailing doubts about Mr Gilligan's reporting.

The revelation that Kevin Marsh, editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme and Mr Gilligan's immediate boss, had warned his superior of "flawed reporting" and "loose use of language" in the original broadcast on 29 May dealt the BBC one of its heaviest blows during the inquiry hearings.

Senior executives insist that they would have been less confrontational with the Government if Mr Mitchell had passed on the concerns.

"We only learnt about the Marsh email a week before the inquiry opened," said one key figure last night.

Will Wyatt, the BBC's chief executive (broadcasting) until 1999, today criticises managers' failure to "conduct a sufficiently forensic investigation into the detail of Gilligan's accusations".

Writing in The Independent on Sunday today, he says the affair revealed the corporation's "old arrogance, as well as a worrying carelessness with detail and a less than adequate managerial grip".

In particular he says that the BBC's governors were "badly served" by managers who failed to pass on doubts about Mr Gilligan's report.

Mr Gilligan, who wants to stay at the corporation, will meet senior executives including Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, this week to discuss how it should respond to the report.

It has already been decided that the journalist will not give media interviews in the immediate aftermath of the Hutton report. Still to be agreed, however, is the extent to which the BBC will admit errors in its reporting. Mr Gilligan wants executives to stick to the formula that his story was "substantially" correct and in the public interest.

Mr Gilligan has admitted he was wrong to say that the Government probably knew some of the claims were false when he first reported his story. He has also apologised for wrongly describing Dr Kelly as an intelligence source in another report. He insists, however, that the Hutton inquiry has proved that his story was accurate in its allegation that Downing Street "sexed up" the dossier and that its claims, particularly that Saddam could launch chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, prompted complaints by senior members of the intelligence services.

The BBC hopes that it has drawn the sting of most of Lord Hutton's likely complaints with a series of measures, such as the ban on BBC journalists writing on current affairs. Mr Dyke is also expected to announce a new set of guidelines.

Some senior executives fear this will not be enough to prevent BBC governors losing their oversight of the corporation to Ofcom, the new media watchdog. "Hutton is going to be about more than just a short-term news management," said one source.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has assembled a team of senior civil servants to advise him on how to respond to the Hutton report. The team, which is being co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office, is made up of officials with experience of other judicial inquiries.

Lord Hutton says that "all persons represented at the inquiry" will be given the report around 24 hours before it is published, but this does not include opposition parties. Mr Blair must decide this week when Michael Howard, the Tory leader, should see it. John Major's decision in 1996 to give Labour the Scott report into arms to Iraq only two hours before publication backfired after a brilliant Commons performance by the then shadow Trade Secretary, Robin Cook.

Stephen Mitchell: The BBC's head of radio news failed to pass on concerns over the use of "flawed reporting" and "loose language" in Gilligan's report.

Greg Dyke: The director general of the BBC criticised Gilligan's email outing Dr Kelly, but accused Alastair Campbell of settling old scores.

Richard Sambrook: As director of news, spearheaded the corporation's defence at the inquiry. He knew the identity of Gilligan's source.

Susan Watts: The Newsnight reporter also reported civil service doubts over the WMD dossier. Her source was Dr Kelly. Attacked BBC bosses at inquiry.

Kevin Marsh: Editor of Today programme who publicly backed Gilligan but emailed to his superiors his concerns over Gilligan's "flawed reporting".