The Sketch: Mirror imagery and illusory words from Gilligan Hamlet

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The Independent Online

From yesterday's evidence to the Hutton inquiry, we see a curious symmetry running through the affair. Have these two adversaries come to resemble each other? Do you start to become the thing you fight against?

Both Gilligan and the Government are accused of sexing up their reports.

Both Gilligan and the Government derived their controversial claim from a single source.

Both Gilligan and the Government deploy the nicest linguistic analysis to justify themselves.

Both Gilligan and the Government launched or suggested they launch counter-attacks on each other's credibility by subverting their positions on other issues as well. There are other similarities we might find difficulty getting through the lawyers just now.

But Gilligan has got a Get-Out-Of-Jail card. Whatever his crimes, uncorrected inaccuracies, lost notes and arguable assertions, whatever over-egging and over-sexing he may have been guilty of - the story he told that morning on BBC Radio 4's Today programme was broadly correct.

The dossier was transformed in the week before publication to make it sexier. There was disquiet in the intelligence community at the 45-minute claim. Some very serious people felt the claim was unreliable and that the single source had got it wrong. And Alastair Campbell certainly had more of a hand in the dossier than mere presentation (more of which next week).

Yesterday in courtroom 73 was Gilligan's final bunker. By and large he emerged from the pounding alive. A bit bloody, a bit bowed but still swinging and significantly more robust than the Government (which looked, in a phrase, like Hamlet's father: in questionable shape).

Gilligan survived by admitting his mistakes and apologising where appropriate. He admitted he had given the impression Dr Kelly had said things that were in fact his own inferences; he admitted he was wrong to say the Government probably knew the 45-minute claim wasn't true before it printed it, and he admitted his grievous error in giving his source's name to a Foreign Affairs Committee member.

He also survived by forcing the inquiry to consider some of the most indistinguishable distinctions since Bill Clinton's. He was asked why he'd allowed a press release to be put out saying that Dr Kelly didn't work for the Ministry of Defence.

"I didn't say he didn't work for the MoD," he explained. "I said he didn't work in the MoD." He didn't have a desk there, you see. Or how about "The words 'my intelligence service source' are not the same as my 'source in the intelligence service'"?

"Sometimes things get a little lost in the telling," Gilligan said, with magnificent understatement.

Here is a final symmetry in the situation. We remember Tony Blair wishing he could tell the Commons all he knew on the terrifying intelligence he had seen? Well, I have access to intelligence (or gossip, as we journalists call it) which tells how one of the country's most senior intelligence officers told media figures to keep attacking the dossier because the 45-minute claim was piffle.

Mr Blair has said claims of unhappiness in the intelligence community are "completely and totally untrue". I know how he feels; oh, if only we could say all we know.