The denigration of David Kelly as a "Walter Mitty" character was the nadir of Downing Street's performance in this sorry affair. The crassness, the timing - 48 hours before his funeral - the attempt to switch the attack from the BBC to the scientist, summed up how badly No 10 has mishandled matters.
The death of Dr Kelly, and the fallout from it, the prospective end to the careers of ministers and civil servants, the acceleration of mistrust of the Government, might not have happened if the spotlight had not turned on BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan's report. Some government detractors claims this was a cynical diversionary tactic by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's communication's chief.
Mr Gilligan's "45 minutes" claim related to the first, September dossier, which was "signed off" by the joint intelligence committee despite reservations in the intelligence services. Mr Campbell's aim was to deflect the focus from the plagiarised "dodgy" February dossier, as well as what had happened to Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, the reason given for the war. Mr Campbell, and Blair loyalists such as the junior minister Ben Bradshaw, put such pressure on the BBC to reveal its source they forced Dr Kelly to break cover. The Ministry of Defence press office confirmed his name to reporters, but it is thought unlikely they would have done so without consulting No 10.
Mr Gilligan's report on Radio 4's Today programme accused the Government of inserting the claim that Iraq could have chemical and biological weapons ready to fire in 45 minutes. In an article in The Mail on Sunday, he named Mr Campbell as the one responsible. BBC journalists Gavin Hewitt, on News at Ten, and Susan Watts on Newsnight, also filed reports on the dossier, after talking to Dr Kelly. They did not make the claims of the Gilligan article.
Then, with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiring into the government case for the Iraq war, the Government suddenly began to be "outraged" by the Gilligan report. Mr Campbell demanded an apology from the BBC for "lies". The "dodgy" dossier and the lack of weapons in Iraq was obscured.
But matters moved "off script" with Dr Kelly's suicide. The BBC said Ms Watts had taped her conversation with him, and he had mentioned Mr Campbell. Downing Street felt it could no longer claim Mr Gilligan invented his story.
So the attack was switched from the BBC to Dr Kelly's credibility. As the Blairs holidayed in Barbados, having called for "respect and restraint", Tom Kelly, a No 10 spokesman, briefed journalists, describing the scientist as a "Walter Mitty"-style character.
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