A journalist who interviewed David Kelly hours after the scientist was named as the source of BBC stories about the "sexing up" of intelligence reports said the expert felt he had "been through the wringer".
Nick Rufford of The Sunday Times also said Dr Kelly complained that the Ministry of Defence had done nothing to help him cope with the storm about to envelop him.
Mr Rufford, one of six reporters to give evidence to the Hutton inquiry yesterday, said he had spoken to the scientist about biological and chemical weapons between 40 and 50 times since they met in 1997. He said he drove to Dr Kelly's Oxfordshire home on 9 July, the day after the MoD announced an unnamed individual had admitted to holding an unauthorised meeting with the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan.
By the time he arrived at 7.30pm, MoD press officers had started confirming Dr Kelly's identity to journalists. Asked how he appeared, he said: "In appearance he looked thinner than I remember. He looked pale and looked tired."
Mr Rufford added: "He said he had just had a telephone call from the MoD saying his name was going to appear in national newspapers the next day."
He told the inquiry that he asked Dr Kelly whether the MoD had offered any advice on "how to field telephone calls or visits from the press, or volunteered to send anyone down to be with him or advise him to leave home and stay with friends at a hotel".
"He said they had not given him any such advice," The Sunday Times reporter said, adding that the scientist had looked "perplexed at the prospect" of being besieged at his home by the media. He said Dr Kelly had confirmed meeting Mr Gilligan at the Charing Cross Hotel on 22 May but disputed the contents of the Today programme report a week later which claimed the Government had inserted the infamous "45-minute" claim into the September dossier.
He said: "I talked to him about factual stuff; the rest is bullshit ... It's very strong language for Dr Kelly to use."
Mr Rufford added: "He said he hadn't been reprimanded. He said off the record: 'I have been through the wringer'."
Several journalists told the inquiry how they confirmed the scientist's identity the day after the MoD announcement that an individual had come forward. James Blitz, the political editor of the Financial Times, said he and a colleague had started ringing contacts after a lobby briefing by Tom Kelly, the Prime Minister's official spokesman, provided several pointers to his name. After an internet search, they discovered an article written by Dr Kelly on a Sussex University internet site. When they put the name to Pam Teare, director of news at the MoD, she confirmed he was the suspected source of Mr Gilligan's controversial report.
Mr Blitz said he was later contacted by a "Whitehall official" who said he believed Dr Kelly was the BBC source, but pointed to discrepancies between Mr Gilligan's report and the scientist's version.
Michael Evans, defence editor of The Times, said he had drawn up a lengthy list of people who could have been Mr Gilligan's source. He said the MoD press office rejected 20 names. He added, to laughter: "Dr Kelly was not on that list. He was number 21."
Richard Norton-Taylor, security affairs editor at The Guardian, spoke of "unease" within the intelligence services over the presentation of the dossier. He told the inquiry that intelligence officials felt under pressure to provide hard evidence when they usually relied on the interpretation of facts.
Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor of The Observer, said his intelligence sources told him there were "two different narratives" about the reasons for going to war. One version, being put forward by the Government, was for "public consumption". The other, according to his sources, said the threat from Iraq was "more theoretical in character".