Spokesman drafted mock press release critical of Gilligan

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Indy Politics

One of Tony Blair's official spokesmen drafted a mock press release for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee which was highly critical of the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan.

Government insiders insisted last night that Godric Smith had never intended to "nobble'' MPs in drawing up a statement on their behalf which called for Mr Gilligan to reappear before them.

But as the mock press release is written from the viewpoint of the select committee, Mr Smith will be open to the charge that he was trying to put words into the MPs' mouths.

The document came to light for the first time at the inquiry yesterday. It had been unearthed by No 10 during a trawl for evidence that might help Lord Hutton's investigation.

Mr Smith sent an e-mail to Clare Sumner, Mr Blair's private secretary, on 9 July.

Two days earlier, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee had published its final report on Mr Gilligan's allegations that the Government had "sexed up" intelligence in its September dossier on the Iraqi threat.

The MPs had concluded that Alastair Campbell had not inserted the key 45-minute claim about Saddam's chemical and biological weapons capability.

However, as the committee was finalising its report, Downing Street discovered that Dr Kelly had admitted contacting Mr Gilligan. The day after its report appeared, on 8 July, Tony Blair agreed to an MoD press statement stating that an official had come forward.

But that day the BBC issued a statement standing by Mr Gilligan. Mr Smith's e-mail to Ms Sumner had a document attached which appears to be a draft press release for the select committee to issue on 9 July. "In light of the new evidence from the MoD last night and the BBC's own statement in response we believe we need to see AG [Andrew Gilligan], RS [Richard Sambrook, director of news at the BBC] and source,'' it said.

"The allegations made by one source through the BBC have been at the centre of issues we have been addressing. The BBC governors in their statement on Sunday defended the use of single-source attribution, saying 'stories based on senior intelligence sources are a case in point'.

"RS said on the Today programme, 'this isn't the BBC's own allegation. We are reporting what a senior intelligence source has told us'. If the individual who has come forward is the same source as the BBC source then we know now he is not a senior intelligence source which we believe would be material to our inquiry.

"AG said in answer to John Maples that he had only discussed the WMD dossier with one source before the story was broadcast. We now know from the MoD statement that, if this individual is not the source, that statement cannot be correct. This too would be material to our inquiry.

"Either way there are important questions that need to be addressed in order for us to try and resolve this issue.'' A letter from the Treasury solicitor points out that the e-mail only came to light two days after Mr Smith gave his evidence last Wednesday.

The letter says "the purpose of the 'document' was for Mr Smith to explain the significance of Mr Gilligan's response to John Maples in the Foreign Affairs Committee to Ms Sumner, which he had earlier tried to do in a brief conversation''.

"As Ms Sumner was extremely busy, they agreed he would send an e-mail to explain the point. He wrote it in this way to enable him to illustrate the point with greater clarity and more succintly,'' the letter adds.

Ms Sumner opened the e-mail on 22 August. She had not opened it before "because she was too occupied with other matters and no action from her was required''.

"As it has no bearing on any action taken by No 10, it had not been brought to Mr Smith's attention for the purpose of preparing his witness statement and he did not then recall having sent it,'' the letter said. "It did not form the basis of any action nor was it part of any decision-making. It reflects the views of Mr Smith in his evidence about the significance of Mr Gilligan's response to John Maples MP in evidence ... that he had spoken to only one of his four sources about the September dossier before making his broadcast.

"Equally, it reflects the general view that the fact of an individual coming forward was material to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry.''

Government insiders admitted last night that Mr Smith's language in the document was "curious" but was not intended to be passed to the select committee. It was simply a way to make Downing Street's views clearer to Ms Sumner and was solely for her use.

The committee voted by four to three to recall Mr Gilligan.