Paul Vallely: Week one is over, and everyone seems a loser

Although Gilligan has come across as over-presenting his story, its core claims are emerging as correct
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The Independent Online

There has been something for everyone in the first four days of evidence in the Hutton Inquiry. Whatever prejudices you set out with, there have been disclosures to reinforce them. The politicians have been ruthless, the civil servants slippery, the spies mask-wearers of smooth duplicity and the journalists ready to sail as close to the wind as the facts would allow, and sometimes closer.

Yet revealingly, though there has been new evidence to support most people's presuppositions, there has been little which seems likely to change anyone's mind. Even so, a few conclusions are already possible.

Andrew Gilligan, despite the infelicitous imprecision of his language at times, has been proved essentially right in his allegation that the central claim in the Government's case for war - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready for use within 45 minutes - was decidedly wobbly, and known by Downing Street to be so at the time.

The prospectus for war, it turns out, was based on not just one dodgy dossier but two. And since they were produced at a time when the nation - and Labour backbenchers - were unconvinced of the need to overthrow Saddam, this is a charge of considerable gravity.

So though Gilligan has come across as overenthusiastic in his presentation of the story, its core claims are emerging as correct, even to the detail that it was Dr David Kelly, not Gilligan himself, who laid the blame for the "sexing up" of the dossier at the door of Alastair Campbell. The evidence of Newsnight reporter Susan Watts confirmed that, even though Ms Watts, rather idiosyncratically, thought it did the opposite. Her failure to spot the story Dr Kelly was offering her revealed a lack of journalistic acumen which means she will probably never be offered a job on The Sun, even though the thrust of her attack on her BBC bosses - who, quite reasonably, asked her to produce her notes and tapes in support of Gilligan - so delighted the whole of the Murdoch press.

The role of Rupert Murdoch's journalistic footmen in attacking the BBC must always be taken with a bucketload of salt. It is not just that all of them, from The Times down, have been pro-Blair and pro-war from the outset. More people now watch the BBC in America than watch BBC1 in Britain; with global revenues of $5.6bn its commercial rivals like the Murdoch empire must be expected to seize every opportunity to undermine its credibility in the attempt to check it or even break it up.

Having said that, it is clear that the Kelly affair will have repercussions for the BBC. The anti-Gilligan memo by the Today editor Kevin Marsh may just have been a bit of back-guarding. But the revelation that the BBC governors have privately said that the culture of the Today programme has "moved in line with tabloid and Sunday newspaper journalism where contacting people who might deny a story were avoided" is damning.

The Governors determination "in due course" to examine "if the BBC should operate in this fashion" will receive support in wider areas, such as from the Catholic church which is still smarting at how the Today programme used the same technique in stories about paedophile priests.

But the inside workings of both the secret service and the civil service have hardly escaped unscathed from these first four days. The uncovering of concern over the political manipulation of intelligence data inside MI6, together with evidence of the self-protecting compliance of Whitehall bureaucracy, show the extent to which the integrity of important institutions have partially been subverted by the New Labour spin machine.

That Alastair Campbell hoped to bend another national institution to his will is clear from what has been revealed of the correspondence between him and the BBC during the war. Even journalists who have been on the receiving end of one of Campbell's letters of vituperative bullying have been shocked at the vitriol of his deluge of complaints to the BBC during the fighting in an attempt to intimidate it out of its neutrality. And the fact that it was Campbell, a former political editor of Robert Maxwell's Daily Mirror, who chaired meetings of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Iraq Communications Group - of which no minutes were kept - in the period in which the dossier was hardened up must raise concerns that make allegations of a tabloid culture on Today seem small beer.

All of this is probably peripheral to Lord Hutton, who seems intent on close-focusing on why David Kelly died. On that, the finger seems already to be pointing at the crushing weight of the Whitehall machine. Dr Kelly may, it is now clear, have lied to his bosses and to Parliament, but what drove him to his death seems to have been the inexorable pressure inside the Ministry of Defence where he feared for his pension, security clearance and job, was threatened directly and where there was even talk of a hostile "proper security style interview" which to the outsider conjures up all manner of unpleasantness.

Next week the focus shifts, with the appearance of five of Tony Blair's closest acolytes, to the role of Downing Street in Dr Kelly's death. Whatever the outcome, further collateral damage to the trust the public has in those who govern it seems inevitable.

p.vallely@independent.co.uk

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