MoD accused of using Kelly as 'fall guy' to rubbish BBC

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The Ministry of Defence was accused yesterday of using a senior scientific adviser as a "fall guy" after he denied being the main source of BBC claims that the Government "sexed up" its dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Members of the influential Commons Foreign Affairs Committee claimed Dr David Kelly had been used as "chaff" to rubbish the BBC claims and divert attention from their inquiry into the use of intelligence in the run-up to the war.

The row between the Government and the BBC showed no sign of dying as the committee decided to recall Andrew Gilligan, the BBC defence correspondent who first reported claims that the dossier had been "sexed up" against the wishes of the security services.

But MPs turned their fire on the MoD, which released a statement the day after the committee reported on the affair suggesting that he might have been the source.

Yesterday Dr Kelly, a former weapons inspector and now an adviser to the MoD on arms control and proliferation, said he was not the "main source" for the BBC's story, despite admitting he discussed the dossier when he met Mr Gilligan in a central London hotel.

Dr Kelly told the committee: "I believe I am not the main source. From the conversation I had I don't see how he could make the statements he was making from the comments that I made."

Dr Kelly said he had written to his manager in the MoD on 30 June to admit that he had met Mr Gilligan after he read the transcript of the reporter's evidence. "I do realise that in the conversation I had there was reinforcement of some of the ideas that he has put forward," he said.

Sir John Stanley, a Conservative member of the committee, asked why the MoD waited several days before issuing a press release. He praised Dr Kelly for coming forward, but said he had been "thrown to the wolves" by the MoD.

Sir John said: "You were being exploited to rubbish Mr Gilligan and his source."

Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, told Dr Kelly: "I reckon you are chaff that has been thrown up to divert our probing. Have you ever felt like the fall guy? You have been set up haven't you?"

Dr Kelly replied: "I accept the process."

He said yesterday that he had only met Mr Gilligan twice, once in September 2002 and the hotel meeting in February.

He insisted he had no knowledge of the final drafting of the dossier, insisting that his role in preparing the September dossier on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was limited to writing a historical section on weapons inspectors and concealment by the Iraqi regime three months before it was published.

Mr Gilligan had told MPs that he questioned his source about who had asked for the 45- minute claim to be inserted in the dossier, and was told "Campbell" (Tony Blair's director of strategy and communications). But Dr Kelly said: "It doesn't sound like the thing that I would say." Asked if the document had been transformed by Alastair Campbell, he said: "I don't believe that at all."

During confused exchanges, Dr Kelly said he could not recall the full details of his conversation with Mr Gilligan six weeks ago. Dr Kelly said that he recognised some aspects of Mr Gilligan's report, including the claim that there was only a 30 per cent chance that Saddam Hussein possessed biological weapons. He also acknowledged that he had discussed the "45 minutes" claim and Mr Campbell's role in producing the dossier during his conversation with the reporter.

He admitted speaking four or five times to Susan Watts, the BBC Newsnight science editor. Ms Watts later reported a source as saying that the claim that Iraqi weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes had been taken "out of all proportion" by Downing Street.

But Dr Kelly said: "It doesn't sound like a quote from me".

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