Kelly told third reporter: 'No 10 spin came into play'

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Indy Politics

David Kelly told a senior BBC television reporter that "No 10 spin came into play" in the run-up to the publication of the September dossier detailing the extent of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Gavin Hewitt, special correspondent for BBC1's Ten O'Clock News, also said the weapons expert had warned of "unease of some substance" among colleagues over some of the dossier's contents.

But asked his reaction to Dr Kelly's denial of having spoken to him during the scientist's appearance before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in July, Mr Hewitt said: "Clearly I was very surprised. In that, Dr Kelly was incorrect ... I cannot think why he did. Maybe it was because he had a lot of conversations within that period."

On the day of Andrew Gilligan's first-broadcast claims of the document having been "sexed up", Mr Hewitt also reported on the concerns of the intelligence community, but he did not repeat the suggestion that the "45-minute" claim had been inserted shortly before publication.

He told the Hutton inquiry yesterday that the Ten O'Clock News production team had wanted to pursue the Gilligan allegations but insisted he first needed to have "conversations with people who had the authority to comment on this".

Mr Hewitt said he had recalled Dr Kelly, whom he remembered as being "senior and respected", and obtained his telephone number from Tom Mangold, a former reporter on BBC's Panorama.

"I think he [Mangold] said, as far as I can recollect, that he regarded Dr Kelly as a gold standard of a source ... in the whole area of Iraq and chemical and biological weapons."

Mr Hewitt said he contacted Dr Kelly, to whom he had never previously spoken, while he was on a visit to New York. He told him he wanted to discuss the new controversy about the dossier and reassured him that the conversation would be off the record.

"He seemed to be very familiar with the subject and almost immediately went into it. There was no, 'This is something I don't particularly want to talk about'," Mr Hewitt said. "His whole language was very credible. He didn't seem to have an axe to grind." Referring to his longhand notes of their 10-minute discussion, which were shown to the inquiry, the reporter said: "Very early on in the conversation, he said, 'No 10 spin came into play'."

Mr Hewitt said that his contact regarded the quality of the intelligence material in the dossier to be "fundamentally reasonable" but believed the dossier had been presented in a "very black-and-white" way. "He expressed some concern about that. He wanted some more caveats in that."

The reporter said Dr Kelly appeared sceptical about the veracity of claims that the Iraqis could launch a biological or chemical weapon attack with just 45 minutes' notice, but did not dismiss it entirely. "I can't recall the precise words, but he clearly had some doubts about it," he said. Asking him to respond to the claim that No 10 inserted the "45-minute" claim into the dossier, Mr Hewitt said the scientist had replied, "Well, I cannot entirely go along with that" or "I'm not sure I would go that far".

Mr Hewitt said that Dr Kelly had complained of "unease of some substance" in the intelligence community over the language of the dossier.

Asked by Peter Knox, junior counsel for the inquiry, about material being inserted into, or removed from, the dossier, Mr Hewitt said: "[Dr Kelly] didn't give me the impression it was purely material being taken in and out on the part of Downing Street ... Life in the final week [before publication] was very frantic, with material coming in and coming out."