Office rumours that David Kelly was Andrew Gilligan's secret source were circulating weeks before the weapons expert's name became public, Lord Hutton's inquiry was told yesterday. John Williams press secretary at the Foreign Office, said Dr Kelly had been mooted by colleagues as the contact in June.
On 7 July Alastair Campbell announced at a Downing Street meeting that a suspected source had come forward. The next day, Mr Williams fielded a barrage of calls from newspapers.
"The reason they were ringing me was they were under the impression that it was a Foreign Office official they were looking for," he said. "I said: 'It's not a Foreign Office official and I can't help you'." He explained that although he knew Dr Kelly's identity by that stage, it was not for him to go public. "It was being dealt with internally from the MoD."
Mr Williams, a former political editor of the Daily Mirror, told the the inquiry he had been asked to imagine he was an "extremely hostile and sceptical journalist" during the preparation of the September dossier, subjecting its contents to critical analysis. "In other words I was asked to sex it down," he said.
Mr Williams said there was a simple explanation for the apparent insertion of the 45-minute claim into the dossier. "The point is that if it was assessed as credible on September 9th ... That is how it got into the dossier."