David Kelly's family will have to fight a rearguard battle to prevent his reputation from being shredded in the forthcoming Hutton inquiry, it became increasingly clear this weekend.
The scientist, whose funeral is being held on Wednesday, is likely to come under posthumous attack from both the Government and the BBC, with one side disputing his allegations about events leading up to the war with Iraq, and the other accusing him of lying about conversations with journalists.
One senior BBC source described the confrontation between broadcasters and government as "a turf war between two giant institutions - and the grass on which it is fought is Kelly's reputation".
Janice Kelly will give evidence at the inquiry into the events leading up to her husband's death. Its chairman, Lord Hutton, has arranged for the family to be represented by a leading barrister, Jeremy Gompertz QC.
The BBC was adamant yesterday that its correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, was "100 per cent right" in reporting that the intelligence services were angry at the way their reports were being used by the Government to strengthen the case for going to war in Iraq, based on what he had been told by Dr Kelly.
Lord Hutton revealed on Friday that Dr Kelly had written to his managers at the Ministry of Defence, 17 days before his suicide, claiming that "Gilligan has considerably embellished my meeting with him".
However, the BBC's team of lawyers, headed by the celebrated Andrew Caldecott QC, is expected to claim at the inquiry that Dr Kelly was deliberately trying to deceive his employers about the extent to which he had been briefing journalists when he wrote to them.
The spectacle of the BBC discrediting its own source of information will relieve some of the pressure on Tony Blair and his director of communications, Alastair Campbell, who have both vehemently denied the allegation that they doctored intelligence reports on Iraq's weapons. The allegation, originally broadcast by Mr Gilligan on the Today programme on 29 May, was based on a private conversation with Dr Kelly.
Lord Hutton's opening statement on Friday confirmed suspicions that the former scientist had given misleading or evasive answers when he appeared in front of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee two days before his death, when he tried to play down the extent of his contacts with BBC journalists.
After hearing him, the committee wrongly concluded that he could not be the source quoted by Mr Gilligan. They later rounded on the journalist, accusing him of being an "unsatisfactory witness".
Dr Kelly told the MPs that he was "pretty sure" that he had never spoken to the BBC journalist Gavin Hewitt. Asked whether he had spoken to another BBC journalist, Susan Watts, during May, he said that he could not remember, emphasising that he had met her only once, the previous November.
In fact, a report by Mr Hewitt on BBC's Ten O'Clock News on 29 May was based on a telephone conversation with Dr Kelly that same day. Dr Kelly also spoke to Ms Watts by telephone on 7 May and 30 May. She recorded their conversations on tape.
New light has also been thrown on Mr Gilligan's claim that he was "ambushed" by Labour members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, seeking to discredit him to protect the Government.
The transcript of the meeting, which coincided with Dr Kelly's suicide, has been withheld at Mr Gilligan's request, though parts have been leaked. In an unseen portion of the transcript, Mr Gilligan is cross-examined by Labour MPs about other reports he had broadcast, months earlier, whose accuracy had been challenged.
One MP, who has read the transcript, said: "When you read the whole thing, you see that someone had briefed them extremely thoroughly about things Gilligan had done in the past. It turned the meeting into a very clear attempt to undermine his credibility." Another source said: "He went in expecting to be questioned about conversations with Dr Kelly, but found himself having stuff hurled at him about 'past misdeeds'."
Downing Street officials are known to be keeping a file on the BBC journalist, because Tony Blair was once photographed going into the Commons to answer MPs' questions carrying a file bearing the name "Gilligan" - raising suspicions that the Downing Street file had been shown to friendly MPs.
Gisela Stuart, a Blairite member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, denied having any briefing papers at the meeting except for one prepared by the committee clerk.
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that security guards called in the police after discovering a "media plan" for dealing with the Kelly affair in a sack of waste marked for burning, but claimed that the document was of no significance.Reuse content