BBC news chief: 'We attacked good faith of government'

Hutton inquiry: Day 18
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The BBC's director of news admitted today that a broadcast by Andrew Gilligan, about Downing Street's 'sexing up' of the dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, had "attacked the good faith of the Government".

Richard Sambrook said there should have been a detailed inquiry into the reports by defence correspondent Mr Gilligan on the Radio Four Today programme in May.

Mr Sambrook said: "I think we certainly should have paused and considered at great length the charges that were being levelled against us."

Asked how he viewed Mr Gilligan, Mr Sambrook replied: "Andrew Gilligan was in some respects a great reporter."

He divided journalists into two groups - those good at gathering information and those proficient at presenting that information.

He said Mr Gilligan was "extremely good at finding out something" but there was a question mark in his "nuance and subtlety" in the way he presented that information.

He said he was a "reporter who painted in primary colours rather than something more subtle".

He was asked by Jonathan Sumption QC, counsel for the Government: "You attacked the good faith of the Government in the 6.07 (unscripted broadcast)?"

Mr Sambrook said: "On reflection I can see that. At the time, I do not think that was sufficiently recognised."

The inquiry has heard that Mr Gilligan said the Government knew the claim was questionable when the dossier was published.

Mr Sumption asked: "Do you not regard that as an attack on the good faith of those responsible for publishing the document?"

The BBC head of news replied: "I took the view that this is what his source had told him."

Mr Sumption responded: "You now know that is, in fact, not exactly what has been said, do you not?"

Mr Sambrook replied: "Indeed."

He added: "I think a credible and well-placed source expressing their view could, in a general conversational sense, be described as evidence."

Mr Sambrook said that on 27 June, when Mr Gilligan told him the identity of his source, it became clear at that point, that he was not a member of the intelligence service.

Asked why there was no correction, Mr Sambrook said that he felt himself to be in a "dilemma".

"Clearly it would be preferable to be absolutely accurate about it but equally we had a dilemma as we didn't wish to do anything which might lead to the identification of our source."

He said that it seemed to him that on balance, he had a greater duty of confidentiality to help prevent the identification of Dr Kelly.

Andrew Caldecott, the BBC's counsel, asked Mr Sambrook what his view was on giving Downing Street notice of the story before it was broadcast.

He replied: "It was my view that the allegations were such that they should have been put to Downing Street in advance."

But he said that the Today editorial team said their experience of Downing Street was that they refused to comment on any intelligence matters and were normally happy for "ministries to take the lead".

He said that as they had defence minister Mr Ingram already booked on the programme, they would "broaden the bid" and put the dossier story to him.

"Again, in my view, the allegations should have probably been put to Downing Street in advance," he said.

Mr Caldecott asked whether Mr Sambrook accepted that the reply by the BBC to a letter of complaint from Alastair Campbell, then Downing Street communications director, on June 26 included errors.

Mr Sambrook confirmed that it did.

He said he had not looked at Mr Gilligan's notes, but it would have been better if he had.

"I think if I had been able to go through Andrew Gilligan's notes in some detail ... we might have got to a point where we realised those were not comments that were directly attributable to Dr Kelly and clearly I regret that."

He was then asked if he or anyone else had authorised Mr Gilligan's e-mail to members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

He replied: "Absolutely not. I think it was an improper e-mail to have sent and I don't think it would be right under any circumstances.

"I appreciate that Mr Gilligan felt himself to be under a great deal of pressure and may have made a misjudgment in those circumstances.

"But I certainly was not aware of it and I don't believe anybody within the BBC was aware of it or could have authorised it."