A saga of betrayal: how Kelly was let down by everyone

No one directly 'outed' Dr Kelly as Andrew Gilligan's source, but ministers wanted his name published, and the BBC did little to protect him, writes Raymond Whitaker
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Indy Politics

In the end, everyone betrayed David Kelly: his employers, Downing Street - and the BBC, which failed to protect his anonymity.

Evidence to the Hutton inquiry has shown that the scientist was a victim of forces he was not only powerless to control, but of which he was unaware.

It has emerged that as he struggled unconvincingly to deny being the source of Andrew Gilligan's report for the Today programme, suggesting Downing Street had "sexed up" last September's intelligence dossier on Iraq, his fate was being debated by everyone from Tony Blair down.

Pushed into a public appearance before the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), which was investigating the decision to go to war in Iraq, Dr Kelly did not know that Mr Gilligan had emailed the researcher to a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, David Chidgey, suggesting questions to put to Dr Kelly and disclosing that the scientist was the source of a report on similar lines by Susan Watts of BBC2's Newsnight. The email, which became public last week, was not part of the evidence submitted to the inquiry by the BBC - an omission it is likely to be called upon to explain.

Dr Kelly was outed after admitting in a letter to his superiors that he had met Mr Gilligan - but the actions of the journalist did not help. He disclosed that his story rested on a single source, whom he had met at a central London hotel. Such detail added to the pressure on Dr Kelly.

It was unfortunate, too, that Dr Kelly spoke to a second journalist, two weeks later, on another matter entirely - two trailers, found in Iraq, which both George Bush and Tony Blair claimed were mobile biological warfare laboratories. The subsequent report quoted one of only a handful of British officials who had seen the trailers at that time, so it was easy to work out that Dr Kelly, who had just returned from Iraq, was the source. That reinforced suspicion of him as he came under government scrutiny.

The most tragic irony, however, was that the scientist owned up just as the furious public row between Downing Street and the BBC over the Today report was showing signs of abating. The FAC, having heard from both the journalist and Alastair Campbell, exonerated the Prime Minister's communications director of the central charge: that he had brushed aside the opposition of the intelligence agencies to insert the claim that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of being ordered to do so.

Godric Smith, one of the Prime Minister's two official spokesmen, told the inquiry last week: "I think had it not been for the fact that somebody had come forward ... and we became aware of it at the time that we did, I think this may very well have been the end of [the matter]."

But Dr Kelly did come forward. By a process which Lord Hutton is still struggling to understand, it rapidly became the unanimous view in Whitehall that Dr Kelly's name had to be made public - to avoid accusations of a cover-up, some say, or to prevent unfair pressure on others who might be thought to be Mr Gilligan's source. In any case, went the chorus, it would have come out anyway.

Mr Campbell himself, we learned last week, wanted to leak the name to one friendly paper, but was talked out of it. Asked if he was "keen" for the BBC's source to be identified, he said: "I thought that that was the only way this was going to be resolved. But I did not do anything to bring that about, because I was under strict instructions not to."

Plenty of others were prepared to drop hints, however, including the BBC's director of news, Richard Sambrook, who lunched with executives and journalists of the Times the week after Dr Kelly wrote his letter. The next day the newspaper reported that the BBC's source was "among the 100 British intelligence and weapons specialists" searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Mr Sambrook helped by admitting that the BBC had been unable to get back to its informant because of the nature of his position. Asked if he was abroad, the BBC executive replied, "something like that".

The Times story in turn helped to convince the MoD first to announce that an unnamed official had admitted meeting Mr Gilligan, then that it would confirm the name if journalists guessed it correctly. At least two newspapers put all the clues into an internet search engine, came up with Dr Kelly's name and successfully got confirmation from the MoD press office. Another threw 20 names from the Civil Service List at press officers before striking lucky with number 21. The events that apparently led the scientist to commit suicide were well under way.

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