Gilligan quits, Dyke hits out and Hutton backlash grows

Reporter exits claiming a 'grave injustice'. Former BBC chief lambasts Campbell. Opinion polls say report was whitewash
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Indy Politics

Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who suggested that the Government lied in compiling its Iraq weapons dossier, bowed to the inevitable and resigned from the BBC yesterday.

Mr Gilligan, 35, the third BBC casualty of the affair, apologised for errors in the May broadcast, but said the BBC had been the victim of a "grave injustice".

Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC governors, and Greg Dyke, the director general, had already quit after Lord Hutton's report into the death of the government scientist David Kelly. The report criticised Mr Gilligan and management at the BBC and exonerated the Government.

Mr Gilligan had said in his initial broadcast on 29 May that the Government "probably knew" its claims about Saddam Hussein being able to deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes were wrong before they appeared in the September 2002 dossier, an important plank in its case for war.

Mr Gilligan said last night: "I again apologise for it. My departure is at my own initiative. But the BBC collectively has been the victim of a grave injustice."

His decision to quit came as Mr Blair faced a growing backlash over Lord Hutton's inquiry. There were fears inside the Government that it was in danger of losing the propaganda battle over the report. Mr Dyke challenged Lord Hutton's findings and accused Alastair Campbell, No 10's former communications director, of being "ungracious" in his comments about the Government's victory over the BBC.

Government unease was also fuelled yesterday on another front - the case for war. President George Bush was forced to say that he wanted to know the facts behind the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. His intervention came after a week in which experts had rubbished intelligence reports suggesting that Saddam represented a threat to American and British interests, as Washington and London claimed before the war. Mr Blair was challenged by Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, to admit that the intelligence was "wildly wrong".

The Government's hopes of "moving on" were scuppered when Mr Dyke showed that he had no intention of going quietly. He said that Lord Hutton was "quite clearly wrong" in some parts of his report, which was read with "disbelief" at the BBC. "We were quite shocked it was so black and white," he said. Questioning Lord Hutton's conclusion that the Ministry of Defence had properly cared for David Kelly, he said: "If that's showing a duty of care I'm glad I don't work there."

He said there were "remarkable contradictions" between evidence given by Mr Campbell to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the Hutton inquiry.

BBC staff were raising cash yesterday to pay for a national newspaper advert expressing their dismay at Mr Dyke's departure. Organisers were hoping to collect at least 4,000 signatures, including those of high-profile television figures.

Mr Dyke said he did not want to stand down, and had offered his resignation because he decided he would only carry on if he had the full backing of the BBC board of governors.

Mr Blair's official spokesman declined to reply to Mr Dyke's attack, saying: "A dispassionate judge has looked at the facts and has made his judgment on the facts. That's where the matter should rest. We accept there was a lot of emotion and anger [at the BBC] but the judge has reached his conclusions ... and what people should recognise is that this is the judge's verdict."