'Gruelling ordeal' of hearing left its mark

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Indy Politics

Not often does Alastair Campbell betray a sign of weakness. But the director of communications for the Prime Minister offered a rare glimpse into what lies beneath his tough image yesterday when he testified at the Hutton inquiry.

Mr Campbell's traditionally hard-boiled persona was momentarily shed when asked how he found the experience of testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) at the height of the row between the Government and the BBC.

As he recalled his appearance before the committee in June, it transpired that decades of media experience combined with a naturally tough demeanour had failed to eliminate the pressure. Instead, Mr Campbell told the Hutton inquiry, he had found the day extremely difficult and had spent hours preparing for his "gruelling" ordeal.

The same committee had questioned the weapons expert Dr David Kelly during the investigation into the BBC's claims that the Iraq weapons dossier had been "sexed up". Two days after Dr Kelly's final appearance before the committee, he was found dead in woodland near his Oxfordshire home with a fatal wound to his wrist.

Yesterday, Mr Campbell, describing his own struggles in dealing with the pressures of giving evidence before the committee, told the inquiry: "It was difficult and I took an awful lot of time to prepare for it. I spent hours and hours going over the contents and the questions that were likely to come up and I was fine because I felt completely confident about the details. But I cannot say it was an experience I enjoyed."

Despite his wealth of media experience, there was pressure in setting out to convince people of the Government's version of events.

He said: "It was to do with the sense I had while giving evidence that there were a small number of people on the committee who had already made their minds up regardless of what I said and I found this quite difficult to deal with.

"I felt that the hearing had gone pretty well; I found it gruelling, I was exhausted and I felt I had opened up a flank in the BBC."