Tebbit defends the BBC in its war with the Government

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Indy Politics

Norman Tebbit, one of the BBC's fiercest critics, has rallied behind the corporation in its bitter fight with Alastair Campbell over the claim that he "sexed up" a government dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Writing in The Independent, Lord Tebbit admits that his support will surprise many people. Tony Blair views the BBC's allegation as "an act of treachery" because he has staffed the BBC with "cronies and patsies," he says.

The former Tory chairman says the current row is different to his war of words with the BBC over Kate Adie's reports about the US bombing of Libya in 1986. Lord Tebbit insists he stuck to the facts over Libya, and he claims the "venom" of Mr Blair and Mr Campbell "springs not from the belief in the guilt of the BBC but from the certainty of their own self-guilt".

Lord Tebbit says part of the reason for the strident nature of his 1986 attack was because he had reservations over his government's policy. Downing Street is "faithful to the Goebbels dictum: 'Never admit to a lie - simply keep repeating it'", he says.

His intervention came as the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee appeared to split along party lines over whether its inquiry should clear Mr Campbell of hyping the dossier by warning that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes. Eric Illsley, a Labour MP, said evidence provided in private on Friday by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, had convinced him and many other members that Mr Campbell "did not exaggerate" the threat.

"The information we were given was to the extent that the intelligence services wrote the dossier," he said. "The claim of the 45 minutes availability of weapons of mass destruction was inserted in the dossier by the intelligence services."

But John Maples, a Tory member, said Mr Illsley's remarks were premature because the committee would not discuss its verdict until tomorrow. He suggested the MPs might decide the dispute was a draw because the Government had not supplied it with the various drafts of the dossier.

Although the committee will try to reach a unanimous decision, the split raises the prospect of its Labour majority backing Mr Campbell and the Tories signing a minority report which stops short of clearing him.

Mr Campbell, the Downing Street director of communications, called yesterday for a pause in the dispute until the committee publishes its report a week today. But he renewed his criticism of the BBC in a letter to Richard Sambrook, its director of news, saying the BBC had been "unable to substantiate the most damaging allegations".

He wrote that he was "surprised that your defence now rests on the principle that you can report anything that a source says, regardless of its veracity, provided that you report accurately what the source has told you."

John Reid, the Health Secretary, challenged the BBC to say whether it believed its anonymous source was telling the truth. But Mr Sambrook replied: "The real question for the BBC is were we right to report what we actually said, when we said it? We believe the answer is 'yes'." The BBC would submit new evidence to the committee this week, he said.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the outgoing British ambassador to the UN, hits back at criticism of the dossier's claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, saying it was not based on the fake document. In an interview with The Independent, he said: "That forged document was never seen by British intelligence. I don't know where it came from. We didn't know. We never knew where it came from and we never examined it."