The identity of a Whitehall official who admitted attending an "unauthorised" meeting with the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan was revealed yesterday, deepening the corporation's dispute with the Government over an Iraqi weapons dossier.
David Kelly, a government adviser and former senior UN weapons inspector, was named by the Ministry of Defence as the official who had attended a meeting with Mr Gilligan to discuss the September dossier, which the journalist claimed later had been "sexed up".
Mr Kelly is an international expert on biological warfare with decades of experience in his field. He worked as deputy chief scientific officer at Porton Down before becoming a senior weapons inspector with Unscom. As well as leading inspections to Russia, he also made 37 visits to Iraq over seven years in the 1990s.
Mr Kelly is currently serving as a senior advisor to the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office as an expert in biological warfare. He was one of a number of specialists who gave evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee in September last year.
He was named after Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, wrote to the BBC demanding to know if he was the source of Mr Gilligan's claims that the dossier had been "sexed up".
Downing Street promptly faced accusations that it had tried to manipulate the timing of the revelation in an attempt to divert attention away from the backbench revolt in the vote on foundation hospitals.
The Government was also criticised for changing its account of the role of Mr Kelly and his relationship with Mr Gilligan. On Tuesday, it stated he was an employee of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and had known the defence correspondent of BBC Radio 4's Today programme for a few months. But yesterday, Tony Blair's spokesman said the contact had been "acquainted" with Mr Gilligan for years.
The changes in the account came after the BBC stated that Mr Gilligan's source for the original story was known to him for years and that he was not employed by the MoD.
On Tuesday afternoon, Richard Sambrook, the BBC's head of news, was asked to meet Mr Hoon to discuss something "important" in relation to the row between the BBC and the Government. But Mr Sambrook was told nothing in particular during the half-hour meeting at Westminster and he returned to his office mystified. According to Whitehall sources, Mr Hoon had intended to tell Mr Sambrook the source had been identified. But the plan was changed after No 10 intervened, intending to delay the announcement for the evening news bulletins.
Downing Street denied that information about Mr Kelly had been deliberately held back. The Prime Minister's official spokesman insisted that the MoD wanted to make "rigorous checks" before going public.
Downing Street said: "This is not a trap. It is not an assault on journalistic standards, but a genuine attempt to get at the truth about serious allegations." It denied playing a game of "knocking down sources" until Mr Gilligan's informant had been found, adding: "How many people did Andrew Gilligan meet on 22 May in a London hotel?"Reuse content