Inquiry that was sidelined by battle between Campbell and Gilligan

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Indy Politics

It started life as a parliamentary inquiry into the intelligence used to justify the war on Iraq. But the hearings of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee swiftly became a gladiatorial contest between Alastair Campbell and Andrew Gilligan over his claim that the Prime Minister's chief spin doctor had personally "sexed up" an intelligence dossier.

Dr David Kelly's role in the drama came in the third act of the committee's proceedings, after the committee had published its report and after the main players - Alastair Campbell and Jack Straw - had been cross-examined.

MPs chaired by Donald Anderson, a barrister and senior Labour MP, reopened the inquiry to question Dr Kelly the day after he was named by the Government as the suspected source of Mr Gilligan's story.

The MPs had already heard from the BBC reporter. During a cross-examination he named Alastair Campbell as the figure behind the "sexing up" of an intelligence dossier on Iraq.

The allegation provoked a bitter row between the BBC and Downing Street and led to Mr Campbell demanding - after at first refusing to appear - to give evidence before the committee to reject the claim.

His evidence overshadowed that of government ministers. The head of communications and strategy denied he had inserted a claim in a critical dossier that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes. He then asked for an apology from the BBC, which was refused.

The committee began to look divided, with some Tory MPs expressing private fears that they were being used as a platform for a personal jousting match between Mr Gilligan and Mr Campbell. The row did not die down when a committee report, published on 7 July, cleared Mr Campbell of hyping up intelligence reports.

The main conclusion that "the jury is still out" on government claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was completely overshadowed.

Robin Cook, writing in The Independent, said Mr Campbell was using the committee to divert attention on to the BBC. "If he were an angler, Alastair Campbell could claim the gold cup for landing the largest red herring in the history of fishing," he said.

The saga continued when the Government revealed Dr Kelly's role. The inquiry was reopened and he was called to appear before the committee. Earlier this week, he denied being Mr Gilligan's source, adding another twist.

In a private session, the MPs decided to recall Mr Gilligan for a second cross-examination. He wrote to the committee to say he had nothing to add. But on Thursday he was forced to answer questions in private in an atmosphere he described as "hostile". He claimed he was ambushed by loyalist Labour MPs who were "absolutely determined to find fault with my story".

The hearing took place on the last day of term for the House of Commons and the committee's Tory MPs were all absent. The sole Liberal Democrat on the committee, David Chidgey, left early.

The committee chairman, in a remarkable development, then conducted a press conference in a House of Commons corridor in which Mr Gilligan was accused of being an "unsatisfactory witness".

As the Commons began to shut its doors for the summer, the committee's clerks were busy contacting the printers so they could produce an emergency report. At 8.15pm a report on "evidence from Mr Gilligan" was issued. It criticised him for failing to name Dr Kelly and answer questions about when, where and at what time he met him.