Government attack on corporation spearheaded by journalists who quit to join New Labour

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Indy Politics

The Government's fierce attacks on the BBC over allegations that Downing Street "sexed up" a dossier on Iraqi weapons have been led by three former BBC journalists who now work for the government.

Phil Woolas, the deputy leader of the Commons, is being threatened with legal action by Andrew Gilligan over his claim that the BBC defence correspondent may have misled the inquiry by the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Mr Woolas is a former assistant producer on BBC2's Newsnight programme, and has battled with Jeremy Paxman, its presenter, over the issue.

The most explosive clash was on Saturday when Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC Radio 4 reporter who is now an Environment minister, locked horns with John Humphrys, a presenter of Radio 4's Today programme. Mr Bradshaw angered Mr Humphrys by saying that he knew from his close friends inside the BBC that not everyone in the corporation was backing Mr Gilligan. Mr Humphrys took exception, saying he had seen no evidence of that.In heated exchanges, Mr Bradshaw accused his former employers of "poor and unethical journalism" and of breaching their own rules by relying on a single, anonymous source for Mr Gilligan's story.

The third ex-BBC man is Tom Kelly, Tony Blair's official spokesman, who used a press briefing last week to list 12 questions that the BBC should answer on its story. Mr Kelly, whose boss is Alastair Campbell, started his career with the BBC, holding several senior posts in Belfast and London. The links between Labour and the BBC hierarchy are well known. Greg Dyke, the director general, is a former donor to the Labour Party, while Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, has been a close adviser to Gordon Brown. Mr Davies' wife, Sue Nye, is the Chancellor's political secretary.

But there is also a wider web of links, which has prompted the Tories to call the BBC the "Blair Broadcasting Corporation". After standing down as BBC director general, Lord Birt joined the Downing Street strategy unit. His former diary secretary, Katie Kay, now works for Mr Blair.

Lord Birt is believed to have encouraged the close links with Labour as part of a campaign to protect the licence fee. Several other ex-BBC staff have connections with Downing Street. Ed Richards worked for the BBC before joining the Downing Street policy unit to work on broadcasting, as did his predecessor James Purnell, now a Labour MP. The broadcasting brief at No 10 is held by Sarah Hunter, previously a member of the BBC's policy directorate.

Mr Richards has since joined Ofcom, the communications regulator. Bill Bush, the BBC's former head of research, is now special adviser to Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The BBC's claims that it is even-handed will receive some backing tomorrow when Theresa May, chairman of the Conservative Party, meets BBC bosses to complain of anti-Tory bias.

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