In question after question, Andrew Gilligan defended his journalism - but admitted he had made mistakes

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ANDREW GILLIGAN: Defence correspondent for BBC Radio 4

During four hours, 11 minutes, of often bruising interrogation at the Hutton inquiry yesterday, Andrew Gilligan steadfastly maintained his claim that David Kelly had accused Alastair Campbell of "sexing up" the Government's dossier on Iraq.

But the BBC journalist admitted that he should not have said that Downing Street inserted the claim that Saddam Hussein could launch a chemical and biological attack within 45 minutes despite knowing that it was wrong.

Mr Gilligan was subjected to much more hostile questioning by James Dingemans, QC for the inquiry, than witnesses appearing for the Government on the opening day.

The defence and diplomatic correspondent for Radio 4's Today programme was asked repeatedly whether he had misrepresented Dr Kelly, made unsubstantiated allegations against the Government and misled the parliamentary foreign affairs and intelligence and security committees.

Through the long, hot day, Mr Gilligan defended his story, admitting that he had made mistakes but standing by its essential veracity.

The journalist told the inquiry that Dr Kelly believed that the 45 minutes information was provided by an "unreliable" single source, and that the intelligence services were unhappy about Downing Street's pressure to include it in last September's dossier.

However, he admitted that this did not back up his claim, made in his very first early-morning report, that the Government had knowingly used the incorrect information.

Mr Gilligan added: "But I have to say with the benefit of hindsight, looking at it now with a fine-tooth comb, I think it wasn't wrong to have said, but it wasn't perfect either."

Mr Dingemans said: "If it wasn't entirely supported by what Dr Kelly said ... why didn't you go back and check it with him?"

Mr Gilligan replied: "What this was, was the product of a live broadcast. It was, I do believe, a fair assessment to draw from what he said to me, but I think, on reflection, I didn't use exactly the right language."

Mr Dingemans put to him: "Was this allegation ever withdrawn at any time before Dr Kelly died?"

Mr Gilligan replied: "Well, I never returned to the same words I used in that 6.07am [unscripted] broadcast. Subsequent broadcasts were scripted."

Mr Dingemans read out a memorandum from Kevin Marsh, the editor of Radio 4's Today programme, to Stephen Mitchell, the head of radio news, in which he said about Mr Gilligan's broadcast: "This story was a good piece of journalism marred by flawed reporting. Our biggest millstone had been his loose use of language and lack of judgement in some of his phraseology."

The e-mail went on to question the journalistic work Mr Gilligan was carrying out for other BBC outlets and continued: "This is a result of the loose and sometimes distant relationship he has been allowed to build up with Today".

The inquiry was also read another e-mail from Mr Marsh to Mr Gilligan, written in the wake of the report. He wrote: "Welcome back. Good work. Good story, well handled and well thought out. Since you are an entirely nocturnal person and I am a normal human being, maybe you could crack the coffin lid open during next week during daylight so we could have a meeting."

The most crucial exchange for Mr Gilligan came when he was asked a series of questions by Lord Hutton.

Mr Gilligan said he had asked Dr Kelly who had changed the September dossier, and the scientist had responded with "Campbell".

Lord Hutton said: "You put the question 'was it to make it sexier?' and Dr Kelly replied 'yes, to make it sexier.' " Mr Gilligan told Lord Hutton: "Yes". Lord Hutton responded: "Are you clear in your recollection that you asked how was it transformed and that the name Campbell was first spoken by Dr Kelly?" Mr Gilligan replied: "Yes absolutely. Yes, it was him.

"He raised the subject of 45 minutes and he raised the subject of Campbell."

Mr Gilligan said he had earlier meetings with Dr Kelly that had not resulted in reports on the Today programme, but said that he had contacted the scientist in May after his return from Iraq.

They had arranged to meet at 4pm on 22 May and met for about 90 minutes, Mr Gilligan said. The inquiry was told that Mr Gilligan's notes, made after meeting Dr Kelly, written on a personal organiser and subsequently transcribed, stated: "[The dossier] transformed a week before publication to make it sexier, a classic was the 45 minutes, most things in the dossier were double sourced, but that was single sourced."

The note then referred to Mr Campbell. It said "Campbell, real information but unreliable included against our wishes ... He asked if anything else could go in."

Mr Gilligan was then questioned about evidence, not yet published, which Dr Kelly gave to the intelligence and security committee, in which he had maintained that it was Mr Gilligan who had raised the 45-minute claim, and who had said that it was inserted at the request of Mr Campbell.

Dr Kelly told the committee that he "may well have said that the 45-minute mention was there for impact", and he cited Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, who had been quoted as saying that this claim was "unwise".

But Mr Gilligan insisted that Dr Kelly was unhappy with that claim. "He clearly said that it was 'included against our wishes' and he was clearly sceptical about the validity of the claim," Mr Gilligan said.

It was then put to Mr Gilligan that Dr Kelly suggested to the committee that their meeting was for a "private conversation". But Mr Gilligan claimed, for the first time, that he had agreed with Dr Kelly certain quotes he intended to use. "He was clearly aware that I wanted and intended to report some of his remarks," Mr Gilligan said.

"I also told him I wanted to use what he told me about Campbell and the 45-minute claim as an example."

Mr Gilligan insisted that Dr Kelly did not totally contradict his version of events. "He doesn't always deny them categorically and where he does, I understand the position he was in. He was an employee with the Ministry of Defence, he had to keep faith with him. All I can say is that I and other journalists have had conversations along these lines with Dr Kelly."

Mr Dingemans asked Mr Gilligan whether he contacted Dr Kelly after the furore caused by his report. The reporter said he tried to but had always got through to his answering machine. "In the latter stages, I very badly wanted to speak to him but after the furore, I knew the risk might be that I would compromise him by trying to contact him. In fact, I did try to contact him once from a phone box but I got the answer phone again so I didn't leave a message."

Mr Gilligan said he had not tried to contact the other man on his mobile phone because he was worried that either of their lines might be monitored by the security services. He added: "This might be paranoid, but it might be sensible."

The inquiry heard about personal animosity between Mr Gilligan and Mr Campbell when Mr Dingemans asked the journalist why his broadcast on 29 May did not mention Mr Campbell's alleged involvement, but an article he wrote for The Mail on Sunday on 1 June did.

Mr Gilligan replied: "I had had a difficult relationship with Campbell during the Iraq war. I thought he had a particular issue about some of my reporting. I did not want to be the first to name him in this context and I thought Downing Street was just as good."

He added: "But then other people in the follow-up ... did name him in this context.

"I thought, well, I'm not the first and I decided to name him in the Mail on Sunday."

The inquiry heard that Mr Campbell had twice written to the BBC, in March and April this year, voicing complaints about Mr Gilligan's reporting from Baghdad.

After the inquiry had been read some of Mr Campbell's letters, Mr Gilligan said: "These letters are examples, and not the only examples, of the tendency the Government has had to seize on isolated phrases and reports, and to quote them sometimes strikingly out of context."

Mr Dingemans asked whether the already poor relationship between Mr Gilligan and Mr Campbell was the reason why the BBC and the Government refused to back down over the matter.

Mr Gilligan answered: "No, I do not believe it is. The response to the complaint made by Downing Street is not my decision, it is a matter for the higher management ... but if the story had been wrong, we would have corrected it."

Mr Gilligan was questioned about his second appearance before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee when he appeared to absolve Mr Campbell of interfering with the dossier. Mr Gilligan stated that he had made mistakes during the committee questioning due to the "hostile reception" he had been given by some MPs.

Mr Gilligan withstood the onslaught initially but admitted to Lord Hutton yesterday: "I had been disconcerted by the hostility of the questioning and I was simply wrong. I was thrown off balance.

"They said they had brought me in to talk about the source but they started talking about a whole slew of stories that I have written."

SCOOP COST BBC £4.15

Costing only £4.15, it must have been one of the cheapest scoops of all time.

Andrew Gilligan told the inquiry yesterday that after meeting the biological warfare expert at the Charing Cross Hotel in central London on 22 May, he had submitted an expenses claim for two soft drinks.

The meeting, which was one of a series of encounters between the pair, triggered the biggest story of the year as well as a serious crisis for the Government.

Mr Gilligan paid £2.20 for one bottle of Coca-Cola and £1.95 for one bottle of Appletise, before claiming reimbursement from the BBC.

As a result, the encounter, and the subsequent scoop, cost the BBC little more than £4.15.

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