Gilligan apologises to Hutton inquiry

Hutton inquiry: Day 18
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Andrew Gilligan, the BBC journalist whose report accused Downing Street of 'sexing up' the Government's Iraqi arms document, today apologised to the Hutton inquiry for mistakes he had made in his broadcasts.

He said it had been "quite wrong" to reveal another journalist's source in an e-mail to a Liberal Democrat member of the Common Foreign Affairs Committee

Mr Gilligan said:"I can only apologise. I did not even know for sure that David Kelly was (Newsnight reporter) Susan Watts's source.

"I was under an enormous amount of pressure at the time, I simply was not thinking straight so I really want to apologise for that."

Mr Gilligan was giving evidence on day 18 of Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr Kelly, who committed suicide in woods near his Oxfordshire home in July.

The journalist also apologised for giving the impression, during an unscripted exchange at 6.07am on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 29 May, that the Government knew material in its dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was not soundly-based on intelligence evidence.

"It was not intentional, a kind of slip of the tongue. It is something that does happen in live broadcasts. It is an occupational hazard. It would have been better to have scripted this one," he said.

James Dingemans QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked Mr Gilligan if he still believed his 29 May broadcast to be accurate.

He first asked about an assertion that the Government probably knew that the 45-minute claim was wrong.

The lawyer asked: "Do you now accept that was not based on what Dr Kelly had told you?"

Mr Gilligan replied: "I accept it was not the right form of words to use because it gave listeners the impression he had said that in terms.

"He did not say that in terms."

Mr Gilligan said Dr Kelly had told him that the 45-minute claim was wrong, had been misinterpreted, was unreliable and was inserted against the wishes of the intelligence community.

He said: "I concluded from that that the wishes had been made known but it was wrong to ascribe that statement, that they had been made known, to Dr Kelly."

He was next asked about an assertion that the 45-minute claim was not included in the original draft of the dossier because it was single-sourced and not believed to be true.

Mr Dingemans asked: "That was not why it was excluded from the original draft, do you accept that?"

Mr Gilligan replied: "Yes, I do."

He added that Dr Kelly had not said that.

Mr Gilligan admitted an "error" regarding the phrase which accused the Government of "probably knowing it was wrong" in his broadcast.

"My error was in expressing my understanding of something which Dr Kelly actually said in terms which he had not."

He said that he had been left to conclude this but did not suggest it directly to Dr Kelly.

Counsel for the Government Jonathan Sumption QC asked him whether, in the 6.07am report, Mr Gilligan was saying the Government was dishonest.

Mr Gilligan said: "I think the allegation here that I was trying to convey was that the claim in the form ... it was made was considered to be wrong, was considered to be unreliable and was considered to be misinterpreted in the intelligence community."

Mr Sumpton asked: "But when you said that the Government probably knew it was wrong, you were actually saying - whether you intended to or not - that the Government was dishonest?"

Mr Gilligan said: "The allegation I intended to make was a spin. I do regret those words ... and I shouldn't have used them."

Mr Gilligan said he made it clear on subsequent occasions that he was not accusing the Government of lying or fabrication.

Mr Sumption said Mr Gilligan's comment that the Government knew the 45-minute claim was questionable was an interpretation of what Dr Kelly thought.

Mr Gilligan replied that the word "questionable" was something he preferred to use, as opposed to "wrong".

Mr Gilligan said Dr Kelly had told him that the 45-minute claim was unreliable, was wrong and had been misinterpreted.

He also insisted that the claim had been included against the wishes of the intelligence service.

Mr Gilligan agreed that Dr Kelly's claims were uncorroborated but added: "We believed that this allegation was in line with a great deal else that had been said on this subject and that it was consistent with other evidence that had emerged."

He was asked about his description of the scientist as one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the dossier.

He said Dr Kelly had told him that he "drifted" between Government departments.

He said the weapons expert was "too modest" to properly describe his own status but added that he knew him to be one of the pre-eminent experts on weapons of mass destruction in the world.

Mr Gilligan was earlier asked about a phone call to Kate Wilson, chief press officer at the Ministry of Defence, on 28 May, the day before his Today report.

He said defence minister Adam Ingram was due to appear on the programme the next day and editors had decided to ask him about the Gilligan claims.

He said he had called Mrs Wilson "to give them the story that I was going to run and to allow them to brief Mr Ingram so he was able to respond to it".

The minister was initially booked to speak about another story on cluster bombs.

Mr Gilligan said: "I gave the gist of the allegations, which was that the dossier had been exaggerated and that there was concern in the intelligence community."

He said he had no notes from the conversation, which the inquiry heard lasted seven minutes and 24 seconds.

Mrs Wilson said yesterday that they only spoke about cluster bombs, with Mr Gilligan saying he had another story but that it was not one for the MoD.

He insisted he had given Mrs Wilson details of his dossier story so that the defence minister Mr Ingram could be briefed on it ready to respond on the Today programme the next day.

He said one possible area of confusion was that he had not asked the MoD press office for a point-by-point response and had only asked that they brief the minister.

He said: "I did not want them to go away and come back with a point-by-point response to the allegations that were made.

"I wanted them to notify Mr Ingram so he would be prepared to answer on the subject the following morning."

He added that his principal contact as a defence correspondent was the MoD but said he would have phoned Downing Street for a response if he had been asked.

He said: "It was not something that any of us on the programme decided to do in order to get a Government response on the story."