BBC reporter accuses bosses of 'pressurising' her over Kelly

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The BBC journalist whose tape-recorded conversation with David Kelly revealed the scientist's deep anxiety over the Government's handling of the Iraq dossier claimed yesterday that BBC bosses put pressure on her to support the corporation in its fierce battle with Downing Street.

Susan Watts, science editor for Newsnight, initiated a fresh round of soul searching at the BBC when she claimed she was asked to reveal the identity of her source - Dr Kelly - to save Andrew Gilligan, the Today reporter who claimed the Government had "sexed up" the September dossier.

The Hutton inquiry into the weapons expert's death was told yesterday that Ms Watts had sought independent legal advice after the dispute broke. She had her own solicitor with her in court rather than depending on BBC lawyers.

Ms Watts said: "I felt under some considerable pressure to reveal the identity of my source. I felt that the purpose of that was to help corroborate Andrew Gilligan allegation and not for any proper news purpose. I felt that my two broadcasts on Newsnight spoke and stood for themselves."

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Dr Kelly had made far wider-reaching claims to Ms Watts two weeks before the controversial report by Gilligan that Alastair Campbell had deliberately sexed up the document by including a claim that Iraq could activate weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Ms Watts did not act on the conversation until after the Today programme went out. But, in a later conversation with Dr Kelly, she admitted she had "missed a trick" by not doing so, she said.

Yesterday, though, she insisted that there were important differences between what Dr Kelly had said to her later, which she included in her report, and what he allegedly said to Mr Gilligan. "I did not include the name of Alastair Campbell," she said. "I did not refer to my sources as being a member of the intelligence services and that the claim was not inserted either by Alastair Campbell himself or any member of the Government."

Richard Sambrook, the BBC's head of news, who was also giving evidence to the inquiry, rejected her claim that he had tried to "mould'' her story. "That was not the case at all," he said. "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 He said he had asked her to identify her source, but had withdrawn the request when she refused.

The extent of Dr Kelly's disquiet was revealed when a recording made of the scientist before his apparent suicide was played at the inquiry. Dr Kelly spoke of "spin" that led to omission from the dossier of material that "takes away from the case for war" and "arguments between the intelligence services, the Cabinet Office and Downing Street" in the days before the report's publication.

The inquiry was also told about his unease over the actions of the Government, including the role of Mr Campbell, in the 21-minute tape.

Dr Kelly also told Gavin Hewitt, special correspondent on the BBC1's Ten O'Clock News, who also gave evidence, that "No.10 spin came into play" in the run-up to the publication.

The inquiry was told that Dr Kelly had misled the Commons foreign affairs committee over his contacts with Ms Watts and Mr Hewitt. In the tape, Ms Watts asked Dr Kelly if Alastair Campbell had, in the scientist's words, "seized" on intelligence that went into the September dossier. Dr Kelly replied: "All I can say is the No 10 press office. I've never met Alastair Campbell ... but I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he's responsible for it."