'Newsnight' reporter reveals the extent of strife at BBC

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The full extent of the internal strife at the BBC over the David Kelly affair was revealed yesterday at the end of the testimony of Susan Watts, the science editor of Newsnight.

Ms Watts accused her superiors at the corporation of forcing her to reveal the identity of Dr Kelly as her source in order to save Andrew Gilligan, and not for any journalistic reason.

The tribunal heard from Ms Watts on Tuesday that she had been told about Alastair Campbell's involvement with the Iraq dossier by Dr Kelly two weeks before he made the same allegation to Mr Gilligan.

After hearing Mr Gilligan's broadcast on Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Watts telephoned Dr Kelly in New York and said: "I may have missed a trick on that one." She appeared to be making clear that the information she was given was different, and that she had not missed a story.

James Dingemans QC, counsel for the inquiry, asked why Ms Watts had sought independent legal advice, having her own solicitor in court rather than BBC lawyers.

She said: "I felt under some considerable pressure to reveal the identity of my source. I felt that the purpose of that was to help corroborate Andrew Gilligan's allegation and not for any proper news purpose. I felt that my two broadcasts on Newsnight spoke and stood for themselves." Asked by Mr Dingemans whether she thought that her reports corroborated Mr Gilligan's reports, she replied: "No, I did not."

She said that there were "very significant differences between his report and my report. I did not include the name of Alastair Campbell. I did not refer to my source as being a member of the intelligence services [or] that the claim was inserted either by Alastair Campbell himself or any member of the government."

Ms Watts added: "I consider these to be significant differences, which I felt the BBC to be at some stage ignoring, in that there was an attempt to mould my stories into almost the stage ... that I was [said to be] reaching the same conclusions or making the same points. I was unhappy about it.

"I am most concerned about the fact that there was an attempt to mould them so that they were corroborative, which I felt was misguided and false.

"I was concerned that it might be apparent that it was Dr Kelly's death that had prompted me to be able to reveal his identity."

Referring to Dr Kelly's appearance before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, she said: "He appears to deny they were his quotes. I felt that having acknowledged having spoken to me, although he was less than frank in describing the full nature of our relationship and our conversations, that those factors together relieved me of my obligation to protect his confidentiality."

Ms Watts described how Dr Kelly outlined the disquiet in the intelligence services felt about Britain and America's stance on Iraq in far more forceful terms than he had used with Mr Gilligan.

During one conversation on 12 May, the scientist told her: "[President] Bush did not have a definitive policy on Iraq's exact capabilities. When Bush/Straw said they had such and such, it was spin."

In another conversation on 30 May, which Ms Watts taped without Dr Kelly's knowledge, the scientist talked about material being left out of Downing Street's September dossier because it did not support an attack on Iraq.

Dr Kelly said the dossier was a "black and white thing - they have weapons or they don't have weapons."

He added: "That in turn has been interpreted as being a vast arsenal and I am not sure any of us ever said that ... I think that was the real concern everyone had: it was not so much what they have now but what they would have in the future. But that unfortunately wasn't expressed strongly in the dossier because that takes away the case for war."

Ms Watts asked Dr Kelly whether it was Mr Campbell who had "seized" on intelligence that went into the September dossier. Dr Kelly replied: "All I can say is the No 10 press office. I've never met Alastair Campbell ... but I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he's responsible for it."

Asked by Ms Watts whether he had been responsible for writing the 45-minutes claim into the dossier, Dr Kelly replied: "I didn't write that section, no, I mean I reviewed the whole thing. I was involved with the whole process ... in the end it was just a flurry of activity and it was very difficult to get comments in because people at the top of the ladder didn't want to hear some of the things."

Ms Watts said she had revealed Dr Kelly's name in confidence to George Entwhistle, the editor of Newsnight, so that he was reassured about running the story.

But she did not believe it was appropriate to tell anyone else who her source was and so when Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, asked her for his name, she refused to tell him. She also refused to confirm or deny a name which was put to her. "I considered it would not have been the right thing to do", she said.

Ms Watts told the inquiry that she had given Mr Sambrook some "snippets" about Dr Kelly but had been wary of saying any more as she feared he could have been identified through a process of "triangulation" as evidence about the identity was pulled together from different directions.

THE CONVERSATION

An edited extract from Susan Watts's conversation with Dr David Kelly

WATTS: What intrigued me, and which prompted me to ring you, was the quotes yesterday on the 'Today' programme about the 45 minutes part of the dossier.

KELLY: I think you know my views on that.

WATTS: Yes, in fact you were, you were quite - I've looked back on my notes, and you were actually quite specific at that time. I may have missed a trick on that one, but er...

KELLY: (laughs)

WATTS: (laughs) You were more specific than the source on the 'Today' programme.

KELLY: (laughs).

WATTS: Not that that necessarily means it's not one and the same person, but in fact you actually - you actually referred to Alastair Campbell in that conversation.

KELLY: Er, yeah, yeah. With you?

WATTS: Yes.

KELLY: Yeah. And I did talk to Gavin Hewitt yesterday, he phoned me in New York.

WATTS: Oh right.

KELLY: So he may have picked up on what I've said. I would have said exactly the same as I said to you.

WATTS:(laughs) Yes. And so he [Gilligan] presumably decided not to name Alastair Campbell himself but just to label this as 'Number 10'.

KELLY: Yep, yep.

WATTS: But on the 45 minute ...

KELLY: Well, it was a statement made and it just got out of all proportion, you know. They were desperate for information. They were pushing hard for information which could be released. That was one that popped up and it was seized on, and it's unfortunate that it was. Which is why there is the argument that it was the intelligence services, Cabinet Office or Number 10 because things were picked up on, and once they've picked up on it you can't pull it back.

WATTS: Mmm. But - and it was against your advice that they should publish it?

KELLY: I wouldn't go as strongly as to say that. I was uneasy with it.. It was an interesting week before the document got out, because there were so many people saying, "well, I'm not sure about that" or they were happy with it being in but not expressed that way.

WATTS: Right. So how do you feel now, given that No 10 is seriously denying this, and Alastair Campbell specifically yesterday saying that [inaudible] nonsense, it was all in the intelligence material?

KELLY: Well, I think it's a matter of perception, isn't it? Er, I think people will perceive things and they'll be - how shall I put it? - they'll see it from their own standpoint. I think one of the problems with the dossier ... is that it was presented in a very black and white way ... It was not so much what [weapons] they [Iraq] have now but what they would have in the future. But that unfortunately wasn't expressed strongly in the dossier because that takes away the case for war.

WATTS: Just back momentarily on the 45 minute issue. So would it be accurate then, as you did in that earlier conversation, to say that it was Alastair Campbell himself who ...?

KELLY: No I can't. All I can say is the No 10 press office. I've never met Alastair Campbell so I can't...

WATTS: They seized on that?

KELLY: ... But I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he's responsible for it.

TODAY AT THE INQUIRY

Lord Hutton will hear evidence from:

Brian Wells, the head of David Kelly's department at the MoD;

Martin Howard, deputy chief of Defence Intelligence at the MoD, giving evidence for the second time;

John Williams, press secretary to the Foreign Secretary, who will be called to establish Dr Kelly's contacts with the press.

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