BBC launches inquiry into 'sexing up' story

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Indy Politics

The BBC was backing down last night in its row with the Government as MPs looked likely to clear Alastair Campbellof the corporation's claim that he "sexed up" a dossier on Iraq.

Stephen Whittle, the BBC's controller of editorial policy, agreed to investigate the corporation's handling of the story. Andrew Gilligan reported that Mr Campbell inserted claims that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction "within 45 minutes".

On Monday, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is expected to clear Mr Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications, of the BBC's allegations that Downing Street acted contrary to the advice of the security services.

But it will make clear that its verdict is based only on available evidence and will criticise ministers for failing to release draft intelligence documents that would settle questions on Mr Campbell's role.

The report, running to more than 100 pages, will also criticise the Government over its publication of the later "dodgy dossier", which was plagiarised from research papers.

Despite speculation that opposition MPs would table a minority report, the all-party committee unanimously agreed its report after it was toughened with several amendments.

The BBC confirmed its investigation into the affair in a letter to Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary. Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, wrote that Mr Whittle would review whether the BBC properly contacted the Ministry of Defence on the evening before Mr Gilligan's report was broadcast. He said: "If we fell short of what we believe to be acceptable we shall say so."

Earlier a BBC spokesman defended Mr Gilligan's report. He said: "Again, we need to make it clear that the allegation was made by our source and not by the BBC."

Michael Meacher, a former environment minister, said yesterday that the Government's case for war was a "fantasy". He told the BBC's online news: "The ostensible reason for going to war ... has turned out to be uncertain, unreal, fantasy. And we're still not absolutely sure what the intelligence services actually did say."