Andrew Gilligan: 'I got it right over 45-minute weapons claim'

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Andrew Gilligan admitted yesterday he made mistakes in reporting the 45-minute claim and apologised for sending MPs an e-mail that named David Kelly as a source for his fellow BBC journalist Susan Watts.

But Mr Gilligan, defence and diplomatic correspondent of Radio 4's Today programme, told the Hutton inquiry he stood by his story that Dr Kelly told him that Alastair Campbell, the departing Downing Street director of communications, had "sexed-up'' last September's Iraq weapons dossier.

The e-mail, sent to the Intelligence and Security Committee, was among BBC documents submitted to the inquiry since Mr Gilligan's first appearance, and he sought to minimise the damage by making a full apology while being questioned by his counsel, Heather Rogers before being cross-examined.

"I was quite wrong to send it, quite wrong,'' he said. "I did not even know that Dr Kelly was Susan Watts' source. I was under an enormous amount of pressure at the time and I simply was not thinking straight.''

Under questioning from Jonathan Sumption QC, counsel for the Government, Mr Gilligan said he was wrong when he reported that the Government had inserted the 45-minute claim into the dossier "probably knowing" it was untrue.

The journalist said that he had concluded from Dr Kelly's disclosure that members of the intelligence community were unhappy with the claim that this dissent must have been passed on to the Government, but that the claim went into the September dossier regardless.

The inquiry has heard that dissent in the intelligence community was not passed on to the Joint Intelligence Committee, which compiled the dossier. Mr Gilligan also acknowledged that it had been "an error" to call Dr Kelly "an intelligence services source" in one of his broadcasts.

The BBC journalist pointed out that the Hutton inquiry had heard how Dr Kelly had security clearance at the highest level, had advised the intelligence services on biological and chemical weaponry, and had regular contacts with the intelligence services, without being a member of one.

Mr Gilligan told the inquiry that his contentious broadcast at 6.07am on 29 May in which in which he made the 45-minute claim was unscripted, and this contributed to the error being made. He stressed that he had sought to rectify this in subsequent broadcasts, saying that the Government knew only that the 45-minute threat was "questionable".

Calling Dr Kelly "an intelligence service source", said Mr Gilligan, was a "a slip of the tongue". He added that he had made that claim only once in 19 broadcasts.

James Dingemans, counsel for the inquiry, presented a letter dated almost a month later, from Richard Sambrook, the BBC's head of news, which said: "Andrew Gilligan accurately reported the source telling him the Government 'probably knew that the 45 minutes figure was wrong','

Mr Dingemans said: "That is simply untrue."

Mr Gilligan responded: "Yes, that is incorrect. It was clearly wrong to say so."

Questioned by Mr Sumption, Mr Gilligan said that at the end of his meeting with Dr Kelly, at a central London hotel, he had discussed how he would describe the scientist in his report, and offered to use the terms "a senior official involved in preparing the dossier" or one of those "in charge". Dr Kelly, he maintained, had said "fine" to either in response.

The journalist said that at the time of this exchange he had stopped taking notes in his electronic personal organiser. Mr Sumption asked whether this was "a credible version of events". Mr Gilligan insisted that it was.

Mr Sumption challenged him: "He never said any of these things to you, did he?" Mr Gilligan then responded: "Yes, he did."

Mr Sumption accused Mr Gilligan of exaggerating Dr Kelly's status as an "intelligence official" so that "people would take your report more seriously''. Mr Gilligan responded: "No, that was not my intention. The intention was to describe his function in respect of the dossier's accuracy."

Mr Gilligan added that his main intention was to highlight concern among many in the intelligence community at the way the 45-minute claim had been made in the foreword to the dossier by Tony Blair.

"That is the claim I reported and that is the claim we now know to be correct.'' He said that he was not responsible for a headline which had referred to an "intelligence source" above an article he wrote for The Mail on Sunday.

Mr Sumption accused Mr Gilligan of misleading the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee's (FAC) inquiry when he was asked whether his source was a member of the intelligence services.

Mr Gilligan had repeated to the MPs points made by Dr Kelly in his own appearance before the FAC, which tended to disprove that he was Mr Gilligan's source.

Mr Sumption asked: "There is a world of difference isn't there, between protecting your source by saying nothing about them and telling lies about them?''

Mr Gilligan said: "Yes, but I do not think I did tell lies about Dr Kelly. I was merely telling the MPs what he had told them. My sole aim was to protect my source.''

Kim Sengupta