Silence of reporter whose voice raised storm of controversy

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The Independent Online

Andrew Gilligan's voice has been unheard on the BBC since the Hutton inquiry began and it is unclear whether he will return before the judge's report is delivered in the new year.

But, despite reports to the contrary, the defence and diplomatic correspondent of the Today programme has not been writing a book about his experiences in covering the Iraq war and the subsequent controversy.

It is believed he has received highly lucrative offers from more than one publisher. But it is thought unlikely that he will write his account - with its inevitably contentious elements - if he continues with the BBC.

Next week, Mr Gilligan flies off for a delayed holiday to Italy's Amalfi coast with his future at the BBC hanging very much in the balance after his two bruising sessions in the witness box.

Most of the claims made in his report on Radio 4's Today programme about the Iraq arms dossier were vindicated by evidence presented before Lord Hutton, but the reporter admitted making mistakes in one of his bulletins.

The BBC hierarchy is not expected to make any final decision about Mr Gilligan before Lord Hutton presents his report. But any criticism of the journalist is bound to be seized on by the Government, Blairite MPs and sections of the media, especially the Murdoch newspapers. Colleagues believe some in BBC management could be tempted to sacrifice him if that happens.

With Alastair Campbell also gone as Downing Street director of communications, this would remove the personal animosity in the row between the Corporation and Downing Street.

The BBC's chairman of the board of governors, Gavyn Davies, robustly defended Mr Gilligan's report in his second appearance before the inquiry.

But some at the BBC believe it will be impossible for Mr Gilligan to continue in his present post and continue to deal with the Ministry of Defence after the dust has settled.

Others believe that is a problem for the MoD, not the BBC. As senior officials told the inquiry themselves, the MoD is a "notoriously leaky" department and Mr Gilligan could become even more of a conduit for disaffected defence staff.

If the BBC does move Mr Gilligan to a job seen as a demotion, he may decide to leave while his profile remains high.

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