BBC news chief 'surprised by row'

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Indy Politics

As relations between Downing Street and the BBC plunged to new depths of bitterness, a senior corporation executive complained privately that Alastair Campbell had "gone bonkers", the inquiry was told.

Richard Sambrook, director of news at the BBC, strongly defended Andrew Gilligan's reports on the September weapons dossier and took a swipe at the culture of spin at Downing Street. He said that the BBC took all complaints from Downing Street seriously but added: "We have to look very carefully at what is being complained about and compare it to what we were broadcasting."

The inquiry was told that on 6 June, Mr Campbell complained about Mr Gilligan's "irresponsible reporting of what he claims to be information from intelligence sources". He added that Mr Gilligan "continued to display an extraordinary ignorance about intelligence issues".

The inquiry was also told that Kevin Marsh, editor of the Today programme, had sent an e-mail to Steve Mitchell, head of BBC Radio News, ridiculing Mr Campbell's claim. It said: "I'm more convinced than I ever was before that he is on the run or gone bonkers or worse."

Mr Sambrook said he had been surprised at the escalation of the row when Mr Campbell appeared before the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 25 June. "We certainly had not anticipated anything on this scale. He had broadened this out to an attack on all the BBC's general editorial values," he said.

Mr Sambrook said Mr Gilligan's report - that the Government had knowingly included false information in the dossier - "was an accurate reflection or interpretation of part of his conversation with Dr Kelly". And he rejected claims made by Susan Watts, science editor for BBC2's Newsnight, that BBC executives had tried to "mould" her story to corroborate Mr Gilligan's. "That was not the case at all. It would have been irresponsible of me not to try and find out if this was the same source and if so, what had been said," he said.

He said he had asked her to identify her source but, when she refused, he withdrew the request.