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The death of a scientist


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This article was originally put online on Monday 11 August. It is based on material which was already in the public domain before the Hutton inquiry resumed to take evidence on 11 August. It therefore includes some material which was revealed in the preliminary hearing of the inquiry on Friday 1 August. It will be revised only where fresh evidence shows up errors or mistakes in the narrative (See notes at the end of the article.) A small library of links to articles about the Kelly affair, including those quoted in the article, will also be found at the end of the article.

18 August 2003/1 November

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a newly mown hay field, close to the tall oaks and ashes of an Oxfordshire wood, the vehicles are drawn up: two white vans, a four-wheel-drive patrol car and a blue transit van. Pitched alongside them, a few feet further into the field, is a square, white tent-like structure, marked on three sides with the word ‘POLICE’.  Nearby two officers, mounted on horseback, are patiently keeping guard.

On this occasion, however, the police incident tent which they appear to be guarding is empty. Whether by intention or not, it seems to be serving as a decoy for the prying eyes of the journalists who are already gathering. Behind and beyond the the tent, a hundred yards or so inside the dense wood, slumped against the trunk of a tree, is the body of a man. Casually dressed, he has a neatly trimmed white beard and grey hair.  Beside him on the ground is a knife. Some time on the previous afternoon or evening, Thursday 17 July, the man took some tablets of co-proxamol, a prescription painkiller dangerous in small overdoses, and cut his left wrist. Then he waited in the heart of the small wood, in the shade of the high trees, as he slowly bled to death.

 The suicide of Dr David Kelly is likely to continue to haunt the government long after the Hutton inquiry has published its report. Much commentary has already been devoted to it and, at first at least, there was a marked tendency in many sections of the press, and among the public, to portray Dr Kelly as a hero for ending his life in the way that he did. That his death was a tragedy for all concerned should go without saying. But that does not make his course of action heroic. Mick Hume, writing in the online magazine Spiked, was one of the first journalists to offer an alternative view: ‘Suicide is rarely heroic; it is far more often a cowardly way out of a crisis, and one that usually leaves behind much bitterness and anger among loved ones.’

However, merely to condemn Kelly as a coward would be no more satisfactory than to laud him as a hero. The reality is more complex than either of these views allows. One thing which does seem clear, though, as some commentators have already suggested, is that it was almost certainly Kelly’s own actions, and the guilt occasioned by them, which finally drove him to his death. 

Again and again, in the days which immediately followed his suicide, Dr Kelly was described as a man of honour and integrity. Kelly himself, however, must have known that the reality of his actions in the last days of his life was very different.

It was on 22 May that David Kelly had met the BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan in a London hotel. For more than a month, as the battle over the resulting report raged between the BBC and Downing Street, he had managed to keep his role secret. On 30 June, however, he wrote to his line-manager, admitting that he had given Gilligan an unauthorised briefing. Kelly reported himself in this manner only when it had become clear that a colleague had already come to the conclusion that he was the BBC’s source. According to a report in the Observer (20 July), Kelly also had been seen by MoD officials taking an “over-keen” interest in the story as it unfolded. Whitehall sources said Kelly had a choice – to wait and see if anyone came up with his name, or take the decision into his own hands and detail his meeting with Gilligan on 22 May …’  It seems likely that he felt it would just be a matter of time before he was unmasked and he came forward in an attempt to limit the damage that would be caused to his career.

Depending on how much he now admitted telling the journalist, the offence he was owning up to was potentially serious. It might result in the destruction of his career and the forfeiting of his pension. He might even find himself prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.

At first the Ministry of Defence promised him that his identity would be kept secret. However, perhaps because it had become clear that he did not intend to confirm the accuracy of Gilligan’s report, this policy was eventually reversed and his name was quite deliberately put into the public domain.

At this point the House of Commons foreign affairs committee had just completed taking evidence for its inquiry into the accuracy of the information provided by the government in the run-up to the war with Iraq.  It had heard both from Gilligan and Alastair Campbell, the prime minister’s combative director of communications. The latter had used his appearance before the committee to launch a ferocious new attack against Gilligan and the BBC, accusing them of lying. The committee now decided to call Kelly as a witness, re-convening its inquiry in order to do so.

Kelly’s appearance before this committee, on Tuesday 15 July – a mere two days before his death – appears to have been the turning-point in the entire affair. The session in which he gave evidence has since been represented as a traumatic experience in which a man unused to political pressure was cowed and humiliated by his inquisitors. This, however, was retrospective judgment. Apart from one or two hectoring questions from a Labour MP, who urged on Dr Kelly the idea that he had been made into a ‘fall-guy’, perhaps the most striking feature of the session at the time was how mildly this senior government official and former UNSCOM inspector was treated, and how ready the members of the committee were to accept what Kelly told them without challenge.

Some of the most revealing exchanges were those which concerned the BBC Newsnight reporter Susan Watts who, early in June, had filed reports which were similar in many respects to Gilligan’s report on the Today programme. It had been widely speculated that Watts and Gilligan had in fact been briefed by the same source 

 Dr Kelly was initially asked by David Chidgey MP to confirm that he had met Susan Watts. He said that he had. Chidgey then read out a note Watts had made of the conversation she had had with her source. The note included the following words: ‘The 45 minutes was a statement that was made and it got out of all proportion. They were desperate for information. They were pushing hard for information that could be released. That was one that popped up and it was seized on and it is unfortunate that it was. That is why there is an argument between the intelligence services and Number 10 . . .’

In response Kelly said that he did not recognise these words. He said that he had only met Watts once, in November 2002, some six months before the relevant reports were broadcast. Chidgey then said: ‘Can I just be clear on this: I understand that these notes refer to meetings that took place shortly before the Newsnight broadcasts that would have been on 2 and 4 June.’ Kelly replied: ‘I have only met Susan Watts on one occasion [ie in November] which was not on a one-to-one basis, it was at the end of a public presentation.’

Only later, questioned by a different member of the committee, and asked explicitly whether he had ‘met or talked to’ Watts more recently, did Kelly admit that he had spoken to her ‘four or five times’ on the telephone and may have done so at the relevant time. This information was clearly vital and a witness who was being entirely frank would have volunteered it initially. In answering the questions put to him Kelly may have persuaded himself that he was telling the truth. But he was clearly not telling the whole truth.

Another member of the committee, Richard Ottaway, now returned to the note made by Susan Watts and read it out to Kelly once again. ‘There are many people,’ said Ottaway, ‘who think that you were the source of that quotation. What is your reaction to that suggestion?’ Kelly replied: ‘I find it very difficult. It does not sound like my expression of words. It does not sound like a quote from me.’  The clear import of this answer was that he could not say with any certainty. Ottaway, however, now asked Kelly a leading question: ‘You deny that those are your words?’ The answer which Kelly gave was clear: ‘Yes.’ It was also, quite plainly, a dishonest answer since it flatly contradicted the uncertainty and sense of difficulty which he had, only moments previously, unambiguously expressed.

This much was obvious even before the BBC revealed, on 23 July, that Susan Watts had in fact made a tape-recording of the conversation in question and that her ‘note’ of the words spoken by her source was actually a transcript of a telephone interview with Kelly.

Now that the existence of the tape has been confirmed there can be no doubt at all that Dr Kelly was attempting to mislead the foreign affairs committee about what he had actually said to Watts. He also misled them in other respects. Although, on the day Gilligan’s original report had been broadcast, he had spoken on the telephone to the BBC journalist Gavin Hewitt, and discussed the crucial issues with him, he told the committee, evasively, that he was ‘pretty sure’ he had never talked to Hewitt. At the same time it seems beyond question that he was also deliberately attempting to minimise his own role by giving a false account of what he had said to Andrew Gilligan. Only a few days earlier, he had told a Sunday Times journalist, in what was perhaps the last interview he ever gave, that ‘It is pretty obvious that I was the source.’ Now he told the foreign affairs committee that he did not think he was the source.

One possible motive he had for doing this would soon become apparent. On the morning after Kelly had given his evidence, Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, appeared on the Today programme. He challenged the BBC to rule out the scientist as its main source, saying: ‘Hopefully, that would allow Dr Kelly to carry on with his career in the MoD.’ These words clearly contained a threat. If its terms had already been intimated to Kelly during the time he had, as he put it, been ‘put through the wringer’ by the Ministry of Defence, he might well have construed them as containing a message addressed, indirectly, to him: if the BBC was not prepared to rule him out, he might be well-advised to rule himself out. If, by being less than honest with the foreign affairs committee, he was able to persuade them that he had not made to Andrew Gilligan any of the more contentious claims which had been reported, then he might be rewarded by the government and allowed to return to Baghdad and to the job he so evidently loved.

On one point Kelly would certainly have been under no illusion: his identity had not been deliberately leaked into the public domain in order for him to confirm Gilligan’s story as broadly accurate. It was not with this end in mind that he had been accompanied to the foreign affairs committee by two civil servants who sat behind him as he gave his evidence, assiduously taking notes.[1]  

IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES it was not entirely surprising that a man who was usually honourable should have provided MPs with a series of untruthful answers. It seems almost certain that one of these came when he was asked to confirm that he did not know that the 45-minute assertion was based on a ‘single, uncorroborated source’ and therefore he could not have imparted this information to Gilligan. Kelly immediately agreed that this was the case. However, this vital element of Gilligan’s report had proved to be correct. It was clearly supplied by somebody with inside knowledge of the dossier, and there is no reason, other than Kelly’s own unreliable testimony, to doubt Gilligan’s claim that it came from his main source. According to one newspaper report, the single-source status of this particular information was classified.  If this was indeed the case then Kelly could have been prosecuted under the official secrets act if he had admitted revealing this information to a journalist.  During his grilling by the MoD, when, as he told friends, he had been subjected to questioning which he reportedly described as  ‘quite brutal’, it seems all but inevitable that this would have been at least intimated to him.

One of  the most disturbing facts in the entire Kelly affair is that, in a number of important respects, the personal interests of David Kelly, once he had come forward as Gilligan’s source, intersected with Downing Street’s strategic need to discredit the accuracy of Gilligan’s reporting. The more Kelly repudiated his own words to Gilligan in an attempt to salvage his own career as a trusted government adviser, the more it would seem to observers that the government was being vindicated in its battle with the BBC. It may even be that Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, had this in mind when he wrote a letter to Donald Anderson, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee before Kelly gave his evidence. In the course of this letter he effectively asked the committee to go easy on Dr Kelly and not to put too much pressure on him.

In reality Kelly was a very significant figure indeed. He was the country’s leading expert on biological weapons, had an exceptionally high security clearance, and was routinely given access to intelligence reports. Whatever the actual terms of his briefing to Gilligan, one thing was tolerably clear; he had quite genuine concerns about the accuracy of the intelligence contained in the September dossier and had voiced these to a number of  journalists. Perhaps the greatest danger for the government was that if Kelly was interrogated too rigorously he might end, as a basically honourable man, by telling the truth.

In the event the opposite happened. It is true that Kelly did not commit the greatest possible perfidy – which would have been to confirm that he was Gilligan’s sole source while repudiating all the most contentious quotations attributed to him. In declining to take this path, which Downing Street almost certainly favoured, and which  some of the Labour MPs on the committee were attempting to direct him down, Kelly at least managed to half-clothe himself in some of the rags and remnants of honour. However, in accepting the alternative position which a number of Conservative MPs held out to him – namely that he was not the source either for Gilligan or for Watts  – he was engaging in a form of dishonesty which was almost as serious.

What Kelly’s conscience must have been left to wrestle with was the seeming enormity of the deception he had practised on what was described to him at the time as ‘the high court of parliament’. What made his predicament even more difficult was the readiness with which the committee had allowed itself to be duped. ‘It took a committee of ordinary back-benchers 20 minutes to work out that Dr Kelly was not the source of Mr Gilligan's report,’ Richard Ottaway had said afterwards. Kelly had to live with the fact not only that he had lied, but that he had lied with consummate success.

If he had not himself been, in normal circumstances, a morally scrupulous an, he might well have found it possible to live with this knowledge. At the same time, if he had lived in a society which was honest about the extent of its own dishonesty, he might have found it easier to confront what he had done and attempt to undo some of its consequences. It is perhaps only because we live in a thoroughly hypocritical society, in which we grossly overestimate our own righteousness  and underestimate the extent to which we are, on the whole, ‘institutionally dishonest’, that Kelly found himself unable to do this.

For if, having allowed himself to be terrorised into lying to a parliamentary committee, he had now come out in the open and admitted as much, he ould almost certainly have been subjected to a vicious and hypocritical witch-hunt by journalists and politicians whose integrity was not notably greater than his own.

The tragedy of the kind of deception which this humane and decent man appears to have felt forced to practise is that it is doubly corrosive. It eats away not only at the public sense of self, but at the more private self, and the intimate and loving relationships which normally sustain self-esteem. To the extent that he could not share his real torment with those who knew him best, he must have begun to feel that he was living a lie not simply in the larger public and political world, but in the private world of his own family and friends.

For a man in his position there must also have been third kind of misery. In recent weeks some have sought to portray Dr Kelly as a natural rebel to whom whistle-blowing would have come easily. Yet Kelly was nothing of the kind. A former head of microbiology at the top secret Porton Down research establishment, and latterly a senior adviser both to the ministry of defence and the foreign office, he was in many respects a dyed-in-the-wool establishment figure. He was one of those men whose sense of their own virtue – indeed, whose very sense of self – was woven on the loom of the scientific and military work which he did, a loom which was itself part of the government institutions which he served. As a senior government adviser who had signed the official secrets act, he knew that his vows of confidentiality were not simply part of an employment contract. They were part of a moral contract in return for entering into which trust had been placed in him and status and distinction conferred upon him. Impelled apparently by his own ‘higher ‘ principles – and perhaps by some measure of that vanity by which most people are afflicted when they are courted by journalists in relation to high profile stories – he had chosen to betray that trust. But now he had betrayed his own principles as well. For reasons which may have been partly selfish (but which may well have included a desire to protect his own family), he had lied repeatedly in an attempt to conceal the extent of what some in the government would inevitably perceive as his treachery. And in doing all this he had attacked and damaged the very loom on which his own sense of self had been woven, so that almost overnight the pattern of his life had unravelled. He had effectively destroyed the fabric of his own highly distinguished professional past while depriving himself at the same time of any imaginable future.

Not only this but he was aware of the fact that, on the very Thursday afternoon on which he would set out on his final walk, Andrew Gilligan was giving evidence to the foreign affairs committee once again – this time in private.

KELLY COULD NOT BUT have understood that the reason Gilligan had been recalled in this unprecedented manner was because of what he had himself had told the committee only two days earlier. The likelihood was that the evidence which he had given in an attempt to salvage his own career would now be used in an attempt to crucify a journalist in whom he had confided, and for whom he must have had, at the time, at least some respect.

He may even have surmised what was in fact the case: that one of the reasons the committee had recalled Gilligan was to place renewed pressure on him to reveal the identity of his source. Even if Gilligan resisted there were all manner of ways, including the possibility of their calling Susan Watts to give evidence, in which his deception might come to light

Anyone caught in the predicament in which Kelly now found himself, in the intense glare of national and international publicity, might very well become gripped by the fear of being found out. The more the person in question perceives himself, and is perceived by friends and colleagues, as honourable and possessed of integrity, the more acutely are they likely to feel the fear of exposure. They may even succumb to the kind of deep, entrail-gripping fear which can actually lead to physical sickness. It would subsequently be reported in the Guardian that, according to his friend, Tom Mangold, Kelly’s wife had said that he felt ‘physically sick’ after his appearance in front of the foreign affairs committee.

By Thursday Kelly had decided upon the only remedy he felt was available to him. Some time in the early afternoon, he found the knife which he intended to use and placed it in his pocket. He also took with him a pack of co-proxamol pain-killers.

It was three o’clock when he told his wife that he was going for a walk. Dressed in jeans and a white cotton shirt, he left his house in the village of Southmoor, walked down the main street, and then across farmland to Longworth, some two or three miles away. From this smaller village a lane leads northwards towards the distant Thames. After a few hundred yards it  becomes a track which soon passes close to a raised area of densely wooded ground known locally as Harrowdown Hill. A gate in the fence opens onto a path which winds round the circumference of the wood, leading eventually to a field.

Here, at the northern edge of the wood, on the route of one of his best-loved walks, he was close to the end of his journey. Beyond him was a view of the half-hidden Thames, snaking in the middle distance through countryside disfigured by a seemingly interminable line of pylons.

At this point he turned and walked deliberately into the dense wood. After a hundred yards or so the undergrowth became thicker and it would have been difficult to penetrate further. Here, in the shade of the high trees,  Dr Kelly must have contemplated for the last time the two stark alternatives which seemed to confront him: utter public and private disgrace, or oblivion. His choice of the latter may have been, in one respect, cowardly, but, given the cruel and unforgiving nature of the society in which we live, it was also understandable.

The particular manner in which he chose to end his life was unusual. Although he took a number of
co-proxamol tablets, a prescription pain-killer which is dangerous in small overdoses, the principal cause of death revealed by the post mortem was loss of blood through deep cuts to his left wrist. The fact that he appears to have subordinated a very efficient method of committing suicide to an inefficient one may be significant. The home office pathologist who conducted the post mortem noted that he had made several incisions, removing his watch while the blood was already flowing, in an apparent attempt ‘to facilitate access to the wrist’.  This might well suggest something of the violent anger he felt against himself. Having converted some years previously to the Bahá’í faith, Dr Kelly may even have been influenced in his choice of a method of suicide by some words of  Bahá’í  scripture: ‘The individual must be educated to such a high degree that he would rather have his throat cut than tell a lie, or think it easier to be slashed with a sword or pierced with a spear than to utter calumny.’ 

not return from his afternoon walk Janice Kelly had not at first been particularly concerned. He frequently went on walks on his own and she appears to have assumed he had simply walked further than was his habit. As the evening drew in she did grow more anxious and contacted friends. But, reportedly because she did not believe that her husband would have committed suicide, she did not at first contact the police. It was not until 11.45, nearly nine hours after Dr Kelly had left home, that she called the police in order to report him missing.

The next morning, as Thames Valley police mounted a massive search operation involving 90 officers, the news of the scientist’s disappearance was broadcast on radio and television news bulletins. At first the prime minister Tony Blair remained oblivious to this development. He was sitting in the first-class cabin of a Boeing 707 flying high above the Pacific. The plane was carrying him from Washington, where he had received repeated standing ovations during his historic address to Congress, to Tokyo for the start of a far-east tour.

Blair, however, would not remain uninformed for long. At 9.30 am, one of the prime minister’s members of staff took a call on the prime-minister's satellite phone from Downing Street, relaying the message that Kelly had been reported missing. Later that morning another call was taken. A body had been found in the countryside not far from Dr Kelly’s home. It already seemed clear that the scientist had committed suicide.

In the next few hours it would seem that Blair’s satellite phone was almost constantly engaged. He took two calls from Alastair Campbell and he also spoke to Geoff Hoon the defence minister and to Sir Kevin Tebbit, permanent secretary at the ministry of defence. Sir Kevin had reportedly been closely involved in discussions about the decision to adopt the ‘confirmation stratgy’ in relation to press inquiries about the identity of the BBC’s source. It would subsequently be claimed that he had been opposed to the idea of revealing Kelly’s identity, but had been overruled by Geoff Hoon.

In these crucial moments Blair also spoke to his friend and close adviser Lord Falconer, who, as secretary of state at the newly formed department of constitutional affairs, would be directly involved in the commissioning of any judicial inquiry.

The extraordinary and almost certainly unprecedented result of these discussions was that, in a matter of hours, before the body of Dr Kelly had even been formally identified, a provisional decision was taken to hold a judicial inquiry.  The prime minister’s spokesman Godric Smith came to the back of the plane to address journalists. He said that the prime minister was very concerned for the family of Dr Kelly and promised a public inquiry if his death was confirmed. ‘If it is Dr Kelly, there will be a public inquiry, I urge you not to jump to conclusions,’ he said.

The sheer speed with which a decision to hold a public inquiry was made seems in itself significant. One clear purpose was to attempt to dampen down the fires of speculation which the news of Dr Kelly’s death would undoubtedly light among journalists. But, according to a report which appeared more than a week later, there had been another factor in the mind of Tony Blair. On 27 July, Kamal Ahmed wrote this in the Observer:

The Observer can … reveal that Blair has felt that his political career was hanging by a thread after the death of Dr David Kelly, the Government scientist. The Prime Minister was concerned that if Kelly’s wife, Janice, accused the Prime Minister of having blood on his hands, his future could not be assured ….

Asked what would have been the impact on Blair had Janice Kelly directly blamed him for the death of her husband when she made her first public statement last week, one senior official said: ‘He would have been finished.’

These words cast a potentially revealing light on the statement which Tony Blair himself made to television cameras the following day.  Early on Saturday morning, at a time when people in Britain were still asleep, and well before the Kelly family’s statement was released to the media later that day, Blair was walking through the corridors of the luxury New Otani Hotel in Tokyo when he made a detour in order to speak to the Sky News cameraman. He said he was ready to make a short statement. The cameraman was given 30 seconds’ notice and there would be no questions.  The statement Blair now made would be relayed by broadcasting media in Britain throughout Saturday morning:

This is an absolutely terrible tragedy. I’m profoundly saddened for David Kelly and for his family. He was a fine public servant who did an immense amount of good for his country in the past and I’m sure would have done so again in the future.

There is now, however, going to be a due process and a proper and independent inquiry and I believe that should be allowed to establish the facts.

And I hope we can set aside the speculation and the claims and the counter-claims and allow that due process to take its proper course.

In the meantime, all of us, the politicians and the media alike, should show some respect and restraint. That’s all I intend to say.

The terms of this statement were, on the face of it, extraordinary. A senior government adviser had given an unauthorised briefing to a journalist in which he had reportedly criticised the government and cast doubt on their entire case for going to war with Iraq. Whatever he had in fact said, the interview he had given had led directly to a claim which Tony Blair himself had described as the gravest possible allegation that could be made against a prime minister. Yet Blair was now describing the very man whose improper conduct had given rise to this allegation as ‘a fine public servant who did an immense amount of good for his country.’

In view of the ‘revelation’ which would be made in the Observer a week later, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that these words were composed with Dr Kelly’s family – and in particular his widow – in mind, and that one of their intended purposes was to rescue Blair’s own political career from the terminal damage it was imagined that Janice Kelly might at this point have been able to inflict upon it.

However, even if it could be demonstrated that this was indeed the case, this would not be the most remarkable implication of the Observer’s revelation.  Even more bizarre was the implication that Tony Blair appears to have jumped to the conclusion that Dr Kelly’s widow might actually personally accuse him of having blood on his hands. What this improbable speculation suggests is that Blair had a guilty conscience. He appears to have recognised immediately that he had something to hide.

To say this is emphatically not to suggest that Tony Blair was indeed directly to blame for Dr Kelly’s death. Although, in the weeks which have passed since, journalists and politicians have repeatedly tried to blame Dr Kelly’s death on a number of individuals, including  Alastair Campbell, Andrew Gilligan, Geoff Hoon and Tony Blair himself, allotting blame in this manner seems unhelpful. A wiser and more measured view has been put forward by the author Robert Harris, writing in the Daily Telegraph on 21 July: ‘I don't believe that anyone is “responsible” for Dr Kelly's death. The notion is distasteful and belittling of a man in extreme despair: these things are never as simple as that.’  However, the decision Dr Kelly took to end his own life does raise questions about the conduct of all the parties involved – including the prime minister – and it is right that these questions should be both asked and answered.

THE STORY INEVITABLY BEGINS with the fateful meeting which took place in the Charing Cross Hotel during the afternoon of 22 May 2003 between Andrew Gilligan, the defence correspondent of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and David Kelly. The outcome of this meeting was the report broadcast on the Today programme a week later on Thursday 29 May. It was here that Andrew Gilligan made his controversial claims about the unreliability of the 45 minute claim and its inclusion in the September dossier.

Gilligan’s report was followed that evening by a news item in which the BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt returned to the story and quoted a source to the effect that ‘some spin’ had come into play over the inclusion of the 45 minute claim. A few days later, on Monday 2 June, Susan Watts broadcast the first of her two reports in which she also discussed the unreliability of the 45 minute claim, while citing as her source an unnamed official who had been involved with the compilation of the dossier.


Although we now know that all three reports were based on conversations with Dr Kelly, it is Andrew Gilligan’s report which has been at the heart of the controversy. This is because his report contained a claim which was not made either by Susan Watts or by Gavin Hewitt.

This did not concern  the role played by Alastair Campbell, whose name was conspicuous by its absence from the original report. It was the claim made by Gilligan that the passage about weapons of mass destruction being deployable within 45 minutes had been added at the last minute and that this had been done as a direct result of the government’s intervention. Gilligan also said he had been told by his source ‘one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the September dossier’ that ‘that the Government probably knew that the 45 minute figure was wrong even before it decided to put it in.’

The Today programme originally broadcast these claims claim not as part of a recorded and scripted report, but during a live studio exchange in which one journalist questions another – a ‘two-way’. The dossier in its original draft form, Gilligan told Today presenter John Humphrys, had not added very much to what was already public knowledge. For this reason:

Downing Street, our source says, ordered a week before publication, ordered it [the dossier] to be sexed up, to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be, to be discovered.

The claim that Downing Street had actually issued an order to this effect was a striking one. Gilligan went on to say that the intelligence services were unhappy with the final form taken by the dossier because, according to the source, ‘it didn’t reflect the considered view they were putting forward’.

‘Essentially,’ said Gilligan, ‘the 45 minute point was, was probably the most important thing that was added’ He went on to offer an explanation for the non-appearance of this claim in earlier drafts:

And the reason it hadn’t been in the original draft was that it was, it only came from one source and most of the other claims were from two, and the intelligence agencies say they don’t really believe it was necessarily true because they thought the person making the claim had actually made a mistake - had got mixed up.

Gilligan said that the 45 minute claim was not just a detail but that it went to the heart of the government’s claim that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. He pointed out that the claim was repeated four times in the document, ‘including by the prime minister himself in the foreword’.

It was on this point that Gilligan’s initial report concluded. However, his full report had been divided up into two parts and Gilligan subsequently conducted another interview with Humphrys which was broadcast live later in the same programme.

Whereas in his initial presentation, Gilligan appears to have spoken with some freedom, using his own words and including only the most cursory quotations from his source, the second part of his report included a number of passages which were presented as verbatim quotes. However, if these passages are read carefully it becomes apparent that there is a significant gap between Gilligan’s initial presentation and the underlying quotations which were subsequently adduced to support it. The superstructure of the claims Gilligan made in his initial presentation simply does not fit squarely upon the foundations which appear to be available, and in some cases seems to overlap them by a considerable margin.

One small but significant example of this is to be found in Gilligan’s assertion about the 45-minute claim that ‘the reason it hadn’t been in the original draft …was that it only came from one source’. In fact, in the words he actually attributed to his source, there was no reference to the reasons why the claim had not been included in the earlier draft. The words reportedly spoken by the source were as follows:

It [the dossier] was transformed in the week before it was published, to make it sexier.

The classic example was the statement that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes. That information was not in the original draft.

It was included in the dossier against our wishes, because it wasn’t reliable. Most things in the dossier were double source, but that was single source, and we believed that the source was wrong.

Gilligan appears to have inferred from these words that the 45-minute claim was originally  rejected by the intelligence services and then subsequently adopted when the criteria for inclusion had been relaxed as a result of Downing Street interference. However, in the quotation provided in the broadcast, his source did not say this. Gilligan’s inference, moreover, turned out to be incorrect. According to evidence which would later be given to the foreign affairs committee, the reason why this claim had not been included in any earlier draft was because it was fresh intelligence. In this respect a claim with quite serious implications appears to rest on no authority at all other than a speculative and incorrect deduction made by the journalist.

There are other similar points which may be made about the same quotation. In the first place it should be noted that the phrase ‘sexed up’, which would be made notorious by the BBC report, was not presented as a quote from his source but as part of Gilligan’s own introduction to his story. His source, if quoted accurately, used the milder phrase ‘transformed to make it sexier’.

One of the reasons that even this quotation is open to doubt has already been put forward by Tom Baldwin of the Times, whose reported closeness to Alastair Campbell does not negate the questions he raises about the authenticity of Gilligan’s quotations:

It must also be doubtful that Dr Kelly used words such as ‘sexed up’, a phrase much more to the taste of Mr Gilligan, if his Radio 4 report on the dossier’s publication on September 24 is anything to go by. He described the document as ‘rather sensibly cautious and measured in tone’ before adding: ‘There are a couple of sexy lines like the fact he (Saddam Hussein) can deploy within 45 minutes if the weapons are ready . . . which we actually knew.’

Nothing here can be proved conclusively. All that perhaps should be said is that, unless they are in possession either of excellent shorthand or a tape-recorder (neither of which Gilligan appears to have used), no reporter can be relied on to produce accurate verbatim quotations of any lengthy utterances made by any source. It would be entirely understandable, though not excusable, if Gilligan had resorted either to reconstructing his source’s words from memory or to noting as a continuous utterance what was in reality but an affirmative answer to a leading question. It is clear that the idea of making documents ‘sexy’ was part of Gilligan’s ordinary discourse. It is more doubtful whether it was part of the natural vocabulary of a 59 year-old scientist and government adviser.

What is much more significant, when it comes to comparing the words of Gilligan’s initial report to the words which he actually quotes, is that there is no reference at all in the latter to any explicit order being given by Downing Street to the intelligence services of the kind Gilligan had referred to in his initial presentation. His source is merely quoted as saying that the document ‘was transformed’. 

In the second part of his report Gilligan  went on to rephrase his original claim, saying that his source had ‘told me the dossier was transformed at the behest of Downing Street’.

This amorphous charge seems itself rapidly to have been transformed by a factor which often plays a significant role in journalism and which appears to have played a very important, but almost completely unremarked role in the Kelly affair: Chinese whispers. The claims which Andrew Gilligan actually made in his original report were remarkable enough. But what gave his story even greater impact is that these claims were themselves subtly modified or embellished as they were picked up and passed on by other journalists. The implication of Gilligan’s claim that the dossier was transformed ‘at the behest of Downing Street’ was that somebody other than Downing Street (perhaps the intelligence services themselves) had actually undertaken the task. However, by the next morning, some newspapers were reporting the BBC as saying that Downing Street itself had ‘inserted’ the 45-minute claim into the dossier. 

One of the problems now faced by the BBC is that even Gilligan’s original allegation (that Downing Street ‘ordered’ the change) appears to differ from the claim which is implicit in the words he actually attributes to his source. These words played no part in the original BBC report. However, when, three days later, Gilligan returned to the same subject in an article for the Mail on Sunday, he said that, in response to the question how the information about the ‘45 minutes claim’ had been transformed, his source had answered with a single word ‘Campbell.’ ‘What? Campbell made it up?’  ‘No, it was real information. But it was included against our wishes because it wasn’t reliable.’

Since there appears to be no other basis for Gilligan’s claim that Downing Street ‘ordered’ the dossier to be ‘sexed up’ this single word answer appears to be the origin of the suggestion. The difficulty here is that the reference Gilligan reports his source as making to Campbell is ambiguous. It could mean that Campbell insisted that the claim should be included, and did so against the express wishes of the intelligence services, as Gilligan seems to have assumed. But it might also mean something rather different: it might mean that the intelligence services (or the Join Intelligence Committee itself, which is not part of the intelligence services) had themselves taken the decision to insert it because they believed that it was the kind of content which Campbell was hoping for, or even because they had been persuaded by Campbell to do so. In this latter case the fault would arguably lie not so much with Downing Street for exerting political pressure as with the intelligence services for succumbing to it.

According to a report which  appeared in the Times on Friday 4 July, the omission of any mention of Alastair Campbell from the original programme report was itself the result of a deliberate editorial decision, taken because ‘editors feared the reference was “ambiguous”’[2]  A more rigorous editorial approach, however, would also have led to the exclusion of the watered-down version of the claim which was actually broadcast. For, according to Gilligan’s own account of what Kelly said to him, the suggestion that that the dossier was ‘transformed at the behest of Downing Street’ or that ‘Downing Street … ordered it to be sexed up’ was an inference that he drew, rather than a statement which Kelly made.

that Alistair Campbell did have a much greater role in the transformation of the dossier than has been admitted. For astonishingly, as emerged in a memo he submitted late to the foreign affairs committee, he actually chaired one of the meetings in which the content of the dossier was discussed.[3]  As Chris Ames has pointed out in an article in the New Statesman (28 July 2003), it is entirely possible that the 45-minutes claim may have been discussed at this very meeting.

What is quite clear is that the committee, which was so easily duped by Kelly, utterly (and unsurprisingly) failed to explore this possibility. Nevertheless the BBC’s decision to broadcast Gilligan’s inference as a fact was a mistake. What is required in such circumstances is either the actual words spoken by the source (with all their attendant ambiguities) or a tactful silence. When so much is at stake, a journalist’s gloss is not, or should not be, acceptable as a substitute.

The entire manner in which the Today programme presented Gilligan’s report can be seen  in retrospect to have been the result of an editorial misjudgment. There can – or at least there should – be no doubt at all that the information given to the BBC by David Kelly (some of which was later carefully reported by Susan Watts on Newsnight) was of quite extraordinary public interest. It raised very grave questions indeed about the reliability of the information which was provided to parliament and to the British people before the decision was taken to go to war. It also raised serious questions about the role which had in fact been played by Downing Street and by the government as a whole, and about the extent to which they may have pressurised the intelligences services for their own propaganda purposes in a manner which was improper, unwise or dangerous.

However, by adopting the informal ‘tabloid’ style of presentation which has become known as the ‘two way’, the Today programme was effectively freeing its defence correspondent from just the kind of journalistic rigour and discipline it is most necessary to maintain in a story of this importance. Matt Wells, the media correspondent of the Guardian, wrote recently of this format: ‘even those who are proficient in its use counsel caution on sensitive stories. Careful choreographing, using precisely scripted language, is required.’ An even more rigorous approach might be to suggest that this format should not be used at all when dealing with such stories. For the practice of placing reporters in seats just vacated by government ministers and interviewing them as though they were politicians in their own right tends inevitably to bestow feelings of self-importance on journalists. It may all too easily nurture in them the illusion that their job is to make the news rather than simply to report it accurately, truthfully and fairly. It may also lead the presenter who actually interviews the reporter into a kind of collusive auction, in which one unreliable claim is outbid by another. This appears to have happened in the Today programme on 29 May at the point where John Humphrys introduced the second part of Gilligan’s report with the following words:

Now our defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan has found evidence that the government’s dossier on Iraq that was produced last September was cobbled together at the last minute with some unconfirmed material that had not been approved by the security services.

No doubt these words would never have been spoken at all had it not been for the revelations of wholesale plagiarism which had emerged in relation to the later ‘dodgy’ dossier produced by the same government.  However, Humphrys’ words seem themselves to come perilously close to exemplifying the very kind of hastily improvised and unreliable assertions they are intended to criticise.

So far as Gilligan’s report itself is concerned the simple fact is that, in the quotations from his source which have so far been placed in the public domain, there is no unambiguous support for the claim that Downing Street ‘ordered’ that the dossier should be transformed at the last moment by the inclusion of the 45 minute point (which is the claim actually made on the Today programme) or for the claim that Downing Street, or Alastair Campbell himself, actually ‘inserted’ this information into the dossier, or ‘doctored’ or ‘re-wrote’ it (which is the claim widely and erroneously believed to have been made).

That the former claim should have been made, ostensibly on the authority of a senior official whose quoted words did not actually bear it out, is a serious matter. Although it may eventually be argued that the claim is substantiated by some as yet undisclosed note the claim itself is so serious that it demands a much more solid foundation than that; it demands a verbatim quotation.

If it was not a faithful and accurate reflection of words which were actually spoken by Kelly, then it cannot but have placed additional stress on him. Although he had risked the consequences of giving an unauthorised briefing which was indeed critical of the government, he would almost certainly not have considered that a single-word answer to a reporter’s question would ever become the basis of so grave an allegation.

THAT ANDREW GILLIGAN’S TODAY programme report, which gave rise to the bitter quarrel which subsequently raged between the BBC and Downing Street, was significantly flawed ought not now to be in serious question. It was clearly also a significant misjudgment to permit Gilligan to write an article for the Mail on Sunday without making sure that it was vetted. It was in this article that Gilligan himself, emboldened by the fact that his initial story had led other journalists to do so, took the further step of naming Alastair Campbell.[4]

However, it would quite wrong, and deeply unfair both to the BBC and to Andrew Gilligan himself, to suggest that the report was wholly misleading or that, according to the evidence which is now available, a very senior and credible source did not make grave allegations to Gilligan – allegations which were of great political significance and which no responsible broadcaster should have failed to relay to the public. Submitted to the kind of rigorous scrutiny which now seems necessary, Gilligan’s report falls short of  the highest journalistic standards. Crucially, its flaws actually afforded to the government, and to Alastair Campbell the very opportunities they needed to attempt to reject the allegations made against them in their entirety. But the report did not rest simply on scandalous and deliberate ‘lies’ as Alastair Campbell would try to suggest. In making this suggestion, Campbell is himself guilty of misrepresentation.

Nor should we leave out of account the extraordinary revelations which had already been made in relation to the subsequent Iraq dossier produced by the government in February – the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’. Although this dossier was described in the House of Commons as being based on intelligence, it subsequently transpired that large portions of it had been cut and pasted from articles available on the internet, including a PhD thesis which in turn drew on material in the public domain – some of which was 12 years old. In some instances the wording of some of the plagiarised material was itself adjusted. Ibrahim al-Marashi, a US-based academic whose work was borrowed in this way, has said that  Downing Street ‘plagiarised and manipulated’ academic material by inflating figures and exaggerating Iraq's weapons capability.

In particular he has pointed out that Downing Street ‘borrowed’ and significantly altered a phrase in which he said Iraqi intelligence was ‘aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes’. The February dossier changed the wording to ‘supporting terrorist groups in hostile regimes’. Al-Marashi has said that ‘By changing these few words, the February 2003 dossier attempts to convince the reader that the Iraqis had the infrastructure to support groups such as al-Qa’eda.’.

Andrew Gilligan’s original report about the production of the September dossier was, like John Humphrys’ impromptu remarks, made against the background of just such revelations. This does not in itself license or excuse any inaccuracies which Gilligan’s  report, or Humphrys’ remarks, may have contained. But it does dramatically affect the significance which should be attributed to them. The best parallel here is the operation of the law of defamation. If it is claimed on the basis of inaccurate information that a man who has in fact an unblemished character has robbed a bank then that claim is not only false but grossly defamatory. However, if a similarly inaccurate claim is made about a man who already has a conviction for bank robbery, then the claim, though no less inaccurate, would almost never provide grounds for an action for defamation. This is because the man already convicted of bank robbery would be judged as having no reputation to defend.

The parallel, of course is not an exact one. No doubt Alastair Campbell would claim that the allegations made in Gilligan’s broadcast about the September dossier pointed to a more serious form of dishonesty than had been practiced in the case of the later February dossier. It is by no means clear, however, that this is in fact the case. At the very least Downing Street had already been caught with its fingers in the till, engaging in an attempt to pass off other people’s information as its own meticulously gathered intelligence. For Alastair Campbell now to claim, with all the appearance of moral outrage, that Gilligan’s report was a grave assault on his own integrity was itself a form of compounded dishonesty in that it failed to acknowledge that, so far as honest dealing in government dossiers was concerned, he and his department had already destroyed their own reputations.

In view of this it is a matter of considerable significance that Campbell’s seething rage, which eventually boiled over in what was reportedly a carefully rehearsed and premeditated presentation (complete with desk banging) to the foreign affairs committee, appears to have taken a long time to come to the boil.  The charge has been made, most persistently by Rod Liddle, the former editor of the Today programme that Campbell’s apparent anger was a deliberately confected outrage intended to deflect attention away from his own role in preparing both the misleading dossiers.

Liddle himself is far from being an objective observer. As the BBC editor who actually gave Gilligan his job on the Today programme, and, in the words of his Guardian colleague David Aaronovitch, a ‘chum’ of the journalist, his own reputation is itself very much in the firing-line. His journalism also sometimes leaves a great deal to be desired. The fact that he made no mention of his own role in hiring Gilligan in either of the two articles – in the Guardian and the Spectator – in which he mounted an unqualified defence of the reporter, itself constitutes a misjudgment. The claim he makes in his Spectator article that, at the end of Gilligan’s meeting with Kelly in the Charing Cross hotel, the journalist consulted his computer notebook and read back to his source ‘all that had been said’, is pure journalistic hyperbole. His particular claim that ‘This included Dr Kelly’s dangerous employment of the dread word “Campbell” and, indeed, the phrase “sexed up”’ is self-refuting in view of the fact that, as already noted here, the phrase ‘sexed up’ was not originally attributed to his source by Gilligan, who reported him as saying that the dossier had been transformed ‘to make it sexier’. Liddle’s further claim that ‘Alastair Campbell chaired meetings of the joint intelligence committee’ is doubly misleading in that he was only criticised by the foreign affairs committee for chairing a single meeting - which was not a meeting of joint intelligence committee itself. According to a report in the Observer, it was a meeting of the ‘Iraqi communications group’. Although Campbell may well have chaired more such meetings in relation to the September dossier, Liddle’s claim strays beyond the facts which were known at the time he was writing. [5]

Interestingly Liddle’s own journalism appears to be marked by just the kind of carelessness which has been shown at times by Andrew Gilligan. Yet, for all this, his account of a meeting which took place at 10 Downing Street between a group of BBC journalists (which included, according to Liddle, at least one Today programme editor) bears repetition:

There was a strange sort of hiatus between Andrew Gilligan’s report on the Today programme that Alastair Campbell had ‘sexed up’ some of the evidence about Iraq’s threat to the West, and Mr Campbell’s rage at being so accused.

It lasted for nearly four weeks. Immediately after Gilligan made his report, there was a brief letter of complaint from Campbell – not an unusual eventuality – but nothing more; just this rageless lacuna.

In the middle of the interval, Mr Campbell and the Prime Minister met BBC executives and the editors of the Radio Four news programmes, including Today, to discuss various stuff: the euro, foundation hospitals, the battle against crime, and so on.

… [T]hey sat down and had their briefing with Campbell and Blair. And here’s the thing. The name of Andrew Gilligan was not mentioned. The famous Today report was not mentioned. Weapons of mass destruction were not mentioned. Nobody said a thing about this appalling, destructive calumny broadcast by Mr Gilligan, the one which, peculiarly, a week or so later, drove Campbell and Blair and most of the Cabinet into paroxysms of confected outrage. There they were, the Prime Minister and his chief of communications, faced with the perpetrators – and they said not a word. On the BBC’s side, nobody was much surprised by this, because there had been little complaint from Downing Street in the press, either. So far.

Liddles suggestion that there was only one brief letter of complaint is, like so many of the claims made in his journalism, untrue. In fact Campbell wrote a relatively long letter of complaint on 6 June and followed this up by another letter on 12 June. [6]   However Liddle goes on to suggest that the most plausible explanation for the fact that, on the occasion he describes, Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell showed no signs of their subsequent rage at the BBC is that ‘they didn’t know they were really angry just yet. In other words, the decision to be very, very angry came later, when unpropitious circumstances demanded it.’ The unpropitious circumstances were ‘the convening of a potentially extremely damaging select committee hearing into Campbell’s role in the compiling and presenting of intelligence evidence.’

It should immediately be noted that even this suggestion is marred by Liddle’s careless disregard for detail. For the overall purpose of the select committee hearing was not to inquire into Campbell’s role but into the manner in which the government’s entire case for going to war with Iraq had been presented. If Campbell was indeed engaging in a diversionary strategy, it was one calculated not so much to protect his own reputation as to protect the entire government (and even, to the extent to which they had allowed themselves to become a tool of government, the intelligence services themselves). [7]

LIDDLE IS NOT THE ONLY commentator who has charged Campbell with declaring war on the BBC as part of a deliberate diversionary strategy. In an article about Campbell in the Daly Telegraph, published on 21 July, Robert Harris said this:

Mr Campbell's decision to erupt back into full public glare - branding a BBC reporter ‘a liar’, hammering the table at a select committee meeting, striding into the Channel 4 News studio while the programme was being broadcast – were reckless actions, the product of wounded vanity and a hamfisted strategy to divert attention from the real substance of the issue: did Britain go to war on a false prospectus?

The point made by Liddle and Harris has also been made elsewhere – notably in the course of an editorial in the New Statesman which appeared under the title ‘The cover up’:

The battle between Alastair Campbell and the BBC has buried the important issue: the way the British (and indeed, the American) people were given a false prospectus of the reasons for going to war in Iraq …

Mr Campbell’s attack on the BBC was an attempt to divert attention from the important questions; the belief that attack is the best form of defence, that the best PR is pre-emptive, is fundamental to the new Labour project. … In many ways, it was his finest hour; the whole thrust of the foreign affairs select committee inquiry was thrown off course.

Similarly, the Economist had this to say in a leader in its edition of 26 July:

The BBC’s worst sin in the dossier story may have been that it was a bit sloppy about the details, and then defended its position as the argument developed too inflexibly. History will forgive that. The government, it seems, has rather more to be ashamed of. Its fury over the BBC’s allegations – how dare you suggest that we would spin the facts? – is hollow. The government has already acknowledged that much of its second dossier on Iraq, purporting to be of intelligence material, was cut-and-pasted from the internet by a propaganda unit …

We are to believe that the delicate Mr Campbell, chief of spin, was deeply wounded to be accused of bending facts. Full of righteous indignation, outraged that he might not be taken at his word, he declared war on the BBC over its report of May 29th and, presumably with the blessing of the prime minister, escalated the conflict. The government’s war against the BBC was a war of hypocrisy.

Ultimately it is not the fact that so many commentators, writing in journals on both sides of the political divide, have reached similar conclusions which is so telling. It is the fact that almost all the circumstantial evidence points to the very kind of confected, diversionary rage which has been repeatedly alleged. This is not to say that Campbell himself was not genuinely angry about the BBC report, or that he was not sincere in his protests that aspects of the BBC report were untrue. However, he appears to have taken a decision to transmute his own real anger into a public and politically opportunistic display of rage which would never have been mounted had the true nature of Downing Streets position not been so precarious, and had Campbell not calculated that his performance at the foreign affairs committee would bring political benefits for the government as a whole. [8]

The Economist’s suggestion that the BBC did defend its position too inflexibly seems sound. But one of the reasons that the BBC itself has evidently found it so difficult to acknowledge the shortcomings of the original Today report is that, instead of issuing an accurately targeted rebuttal, honestly followed by any admissions which were relevant to the charge, Downing Street began by rebutting a charge which had not actually been made. Its immediate response to the Today programme claims on 29 May was to assert that every word contained in the dossier had been written by the intelligence services. In saying this they were not responding to the sting of the BBC’s allegation, which was that the document had been rewritten ‘at the behest of Downing Street’. Moreover, when armed forces minister Adam Ingram himself appeared on the Today  programme later that same morning and issued the blanket denial that ‘There was no pressure from Number 10’, he was making a claim so sweeping and so improbable that even the most naïve observer would be unlikely to accept it.

The fact that Ingram went on to acknowledge that the 45-minute claim was indeed based on single-source, uncorroborated intelligence should go to the government’s credit. But it was inevitable that this admission would only lend credibility to Gilligan’s other claims. The admission which was not forthcoming at this stage was that Alastair Campbell had himself actually chaired a meeting which discussed the contents of the September dossier.  This admission is one he would only make belatedly in a memo which was not sent to the foreign affairs committee until after he had given his own evidence to it. [9]

Instead of displaying candour, Alistair Campbell now wrote to the editor of Today one of those letters of complaint which the BBC has come to see as one of the all-but inevitable consequences of making any criticism of the government. Given the almost routine nature of this response, it is scarcely surprising that BBC did not immediately respond by issuing an apology.

Once Campbell launched his belated full-frontal assault on Gilligan and the BBC, when he appeared before the foreign affairs select committee, it was quite clear that this was no longer an argument about the accuracy of a single report. In the letters which he subsequently wrote to the BBC, Campbell, with the evident approval of Tony Blair, progressively enlarged the his assault. As opposed to mounting a surgical rebuttal, he adopted a policy almost of saturation bombing; the target was enlarged until it included the entire BBC coverage of the Iraq war. Given the nature of this onslaught, it was perhaps not surprising that the BBC executives who now had the task of responding to Campbell under the glare of the most intense kind of media publicity, appeared unable, in the letters they sent back to him, to give to the original report the kind of forensic and self-critical attention which the occasion seemed to demand.

of July, however, according to a report which subsequently appeared in the Guardian, Downing Street indicated to Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC governors and Greg Dyke, the director general, that they were willing to negotiate a truce:

A senior BBC executive said … : ‘Greg and Gavyn were told that if they wanted to have a conversation about it, there were people in No 10 who would be ready to have a conversation about it.’

Mr Dyke and Mr Davies decided not to the pursue the opportunity because the strategy, at the time, was one of all-out defence against the onslaught from Mr Campbell.

Informed sources said that Mr Davies and Mr Dyke - both past Labour donors - had felt the need to prove their independence.

… Later Mr Davies blocked Mr Dyke seeking to seize peace feelers. ‘If it emerged he’d found some accommodation with the government it would have destroyed his credibility within the organisation. He’d have been dismissed as a Labour patsy,’ [a senior] MP said. 

Although the precise details of what now took place are not clear, the Guardian’s suggestion that Greg Dyke had at one point been ‘seeking to seize peace feelers’ may throw some light on a mysterious meeting which reportedly took place on Thursday 3 July. For on that day, the Guardian would later report, the head of BBC news Richard Sambrook, who had borne the brunt of Campbell’s furious letters, and who had worked closely with Dyke on the BBC’s replies, had lunched at the Times. This in itself seemed surprising since, as a Murdoch-owned paper, the Times is often seen as one of the BBC’s arch-enemies. The purpose of Sambrook’s visit appears to have been to hold out an olive branch to the forces now ranged against it, including Campbell, to whom Times journalist Tom Baldwin is said to be particularly close.

The next day, Friday 4 July, the Times carried a prominent report under the headline ‘BBC on edge of defeat on Iraq dossier row’. The story claimed that, with the foreign affairs select committee due to publish on the following Monday a report in which it was expected to clear Campbell of the charge of ‘sexing up’ the September dossier, the BBC was ‘preparing for defeat … in its battle with Downing Street’:

Corporation executives have acknowledged to The Times that ‘heads may roll’ after such a verdict from the Foreign Affairs Committee and that they will have to broadcast a correction over the most contentious charge levelled at Downing Street. 

In a remarkable series of revelations the Times article went on to relay misgivings about Gilligan’s original Today report which were said to have proceeded from within the BBC itself and appear, in the circumstances, to have come directly from Richard Sambrook:    

It emerged that Mr Gilligan did not take a pen and notebook to his meeting with the source, and apparently wrote up his notes of the meeting on a Palm Pilot. This has since been handed to the BBC, which says that it is satisfied the notes are contemporaneous …

The BBC believes that Mr Gilligan’s source is credible but accepts that the description of Mr Campbell’s involvement in ‘sexing up’ the dossier may have been a ‘generic’ term for political pressure on the intelligence services. They point out that the original Today programme report did not mention Mr Campbell because editors feared the reference was ‘ambiguous’.

The exact thinking behind what appears to have been a deliberate attempt by a senior BBC executive to make peace with Downing Street remains obscure. However, if this was part of Dyke’s attempt ‘to seize peace feelers’ put out by Downing Street, then the concluding paragraphs of the Times story suggested that the terms of any truce sought by  Downing Street might be severe. Using what would appear to have been a direct quotation from Sambrook it outlined the views of Greg Dyke:

Mr Dyke is said to believe that Mr Campbell has been ‘itching’ to attack the BBC after being angered by its reports from Baghdad and the prominence it gave to the Labour revolt against war. “This has been a long time in coming. Steam has been building for some time,” an insider said. Mr Dyke [is] a former Labour donor and has been determined to prove his independence.

In a paragraph whose source was, by implication, Campbell himself, the Times story immediately went on to suggest that any idea the BBC might have that they could end the hostilities simply by offering Gilligan’s head on a plate was based on an illusion. It was a different head which was being sought:

However, Mr Campbell is understood to have Mr Dyke in his sights, believing that the BBC should not be allowed to make Mr Gilligan a whipping boy for decisions made by the corporation’s senior hierarchy.

The exact consequences for the BBC of the appearance of this story in the Times on Friday morning remain to be established. It is entirely possible that, even if Greg Dyke had previously contemplated the possibility of accepting a truce, the reference to his own possible fate would now lead him to reconsider. Alternatively it may have been at this point that, as the Guardian would later put it,  ‘Mr Davies blocked Mr Dyke seeking to seize peace feelers’. The only thing which seems reasonably clear is that during Friday, Sambrook, who had worked closely with Dyke throughout the crisis, found himself left with no alternative but to issue a denial of crucial aspects of a story of which he had himself apparently been the principal source.


At some point on Friday, he sent an email to BBC news staff which contained the following assurances:

In view of the seriousness of the current allegations against BBC News, I would just like to correct the impression given in today’s edition of the Times. The BBC is not ‘on the edge of defeat’ – we continue to stand by our source and our story.

There has been no discussion whatsoever within the BBC about ‘heads may roll’. Andrew Gilligan’s position is not ‘under threat’ …

Clearly we are about to enter another few days of intensive criticism from the government over our reporting of these allegations. All of us are resolved to stand firm behind our reporting of this story.

The next day, Saturday, the Guardian revealed that the BBC board of governors had arranged to hold an emergency meeting that Sunday in order to discuss the corporation’s predicament. Although it was widely assumed that this might presage a climb-down, the actual outcome of the meeting was an apparently unanimous declaration of support for the line previously taken in public by BBC news executives:

In a statement read out at Broadcasting House in London, Gavyn Davies said: ‘The board reiterates that the BBC’s overall coverage of the war, and the political issues surrounding it, has been entirely impartial, and it emphatically rejects Mr Campbell’s claim that large parts of the BBC had an agenda against the war.

‘We call on Mr Campbell to withdraw these allegations of bias against the BBC and its journalists … The board is satisfied that it was in the public interest to broadcast Mr Gilligan’s story, given the information which was available to BBC News at the time. We believe it would not have been in the public interest to have suppressed the stories on either the Today programme or Newsnight.’

One of the main reasons why the BBC was able to maintain credibility at this point was that the foreign affairs committee, when it published its report on the Monday immediately following the meeting of the BBC governors, did not unanimously vindicate Alastair Campbell. Instead the committee split along party lines. With the help of the casting vote of its chairman, Donald Anderson, the Labour majority did back a report which effectively cleared Campbell of the charge of interfering with the content of the September dossier in order to exaggerate its claims. But the remaining MPs reserved judgment, saying that the did not have access to sufficient information in order to be able to make a reliable judgment on this issue.

The combined effect of this split report and the opinion of the BBC board of governors which had now been marshalled against Campbell almost inevitably had the effect of exacerbating the dispute still further.

BY NOW THE CRUCIAL development, which would determine the entire shape of the rest of Campbell’s campaign against the BBC, had already taken place. On 30 June David Kelly, who by this point was apparently concerned that he might be uncovered as the source for Andrew Gilligan’s Today report, wrote a letter to his line manager at the ministry of defence. The letter, whose evident aim was to pre-empt any such discovery by volunteering the information himself, contained the following sentence: ‘I met with Gilligan in London on May 22nd for 45 minutes in the evening to privately discuss his Iraq experiences and definitely not to discuss the dossier.’

A little later in the letter Kelly said that the issue of the 45 minutes claim arose in the course of the discussion. However, in his letter he wrote:

I did not even consider that I was the ‘source’ of Gilligan’s information until a friend in RUSI [the Royal United Services Institute] said that I should look at the ‘Oral evidence provided to the Foreign Affairs Committee’ on 19th June because she recognised that some comments were the sort that I would make about Iraq’s chemical and biological capacity. The description of that meeting in small part matches my interaction with him, especially my personal evaluation of Iraq's capability, but the overall character is quite different. I can only conclude one of three things:

Gilligan has considerably embellished my meeting with him; he has met with other individuals who truly were intimately associated with the dossier; or he has assembled comments from both multiple direct and indirect sources for his articles  

Read in the light of what we now know about Dr Kelly’s contacts with BBC journalists, this letter is quite clearly less than frank. Had Kelly been intent on making a full admission he would have owned up not only to his meeting with Gilligan but to the series of detailed telephone conversations he had had with Susan Watts, in which the 45 minute claim had also been discussed. He would also have mentioned his conversation with Gavin Hewitt which had taken place on the same day as Gilligan’s report had been broadcast.

It should be immediately clear, however, why Dr Kelly felt unable to do this. Intent, as he apparently was, on understating what he had actually said to Gilligan, he could scarcely admit to talking to Watts as well. Otherwise the content of her undisputed report would have strongly suggested that he had been much more indiscreet that he was prepared to acknowledge. Instead Kelly made what now seems to be a deliberately untruthful claim – namely that he had not himself considered that he was Gilligan’s source until a colleague drew this possibility to his attention.

Kelly’s letter, the relevant portions of which were read out  by Lord Hutton at the preliminary hearing of his inquiry on 1 August, seems already to set the pattern for the responses he would eventually give to Home Affairs Committee. That a man who appears to have been morally scrupulous should have begun by misleading his line manager in this way is not perhaps as remarkable as it may now seem.  At this stage there would seem to be little doubt that he had convinced himself that, by minimising his role as Gilligan’s source, and by misrepresenting what had actually happened, he would be causing relatively little harm; he would merely by sheltering behind a few ‘white lies’ which, if he was able to maintain them, might safeguard not only his future job but also his pension and with that the entire future security and happiness of his family.

According to what he subsequently told his friends it would seem that, although Kelly was now subjected to some ‘brutal’ questioning, he was assured by the ministry of defence officials who now quizzed him that neither his identity, nor the fact of his unauthorised meeting with Andrew Gilligan would be made public. At this point, however, the fact that Kelly had come forward was made known to Alastair Campbell.

Some crucial evidence for what happened next is contained, as Peter Oborne, the political correspondent of the Spectator, has pointed out, in an article which appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday 9 July, on the morning on which Kelly’s identity, was finally put in the public domain. The article in question was written by Patrick Wintour a lobby reporter who, along with Tom Baldwin, is seen ‘as being exceptionally close to Alastair Campbell and the No.10 press office.’  In Wintour’s piece there appears to be a clear indication that it was Campbell who now intervened and came up with the strategy of using Geoff Hoon to release Kelly’s name to the BBC in an attempt to force an admission from them that he was indeed their source: 

By Monday afternoon, as the propaganda battle raged over the differing interpretations of the select committee report, Downing Street became confident it had tracked down the Gilligan source. Interviews conducted with alleged sources convinced officials their MoD man was telling the truth.

Mr Campbell could have let the matter lie and allowed the MoD to deal with the issue internally. But – in the view of Downing Street – over the weekend the BBC director-general Greg Dyke had improperly bullied the BBC governors into backing Gilligan.
Anyway Mr Campbell is not a man to let a matter like this rest.

In particular, he was furious that the BBC was now claiming it was legitimate to report the story even if it turned out to be inaccurrate.

No 10 reckoned on Monday night it could unmask the mole by confronting the BBC. Yet even now, despite the interview with the MoD official, they could not be sure he was the source Gilligan had described. Privately they thought it possible Gilligan had exaggerated the conversation and the source in turn might be playing down what he had said.

This initial strategy of attempting to obtain an admission from the BBC failed. However there was clearly a strong feeling within Downing Street that if they could establish that Kelly had indeed been the mole then it would deal a devastating blow to the BBC who had now on a number of occasions characterised their informant as ‘a senior intelligence source’. Not only did Kelly not work for the intelligence services, but, as his own letter to his line manager had obliquely acknowledged, he had perhaps not been as closely associated with the production of the September dossier as the BBC’s story had implied.

Patrick Wintour’s article does not directly implicate Alastair Campbell in the decision to put Dr Kelly’s name in the public domain.  Kelly’s name was not in fact put on the Press Association’s newswire until 11.40pm on Wednesday, the day on which Wintour’s article had appeared. However, as Oborne himself writes:

This Wintour article is important for three reasons. First for its unequivocal assertion that Alastair Campbell intervened directly in the Kelly business, overriding MoD procedures. Second, it makes completely plain that Campbell took this action in order to further the government feud against the BBC. Third, the story was written before the Kelly suicide, and therefore before government handling of the Kelly affair had become a matter of acute public interest. It carries unusual weight because of Wintour’s close relations with No. 10 and the New Labour machine.  

As has been widely suggested, the strategy used by the ministry of defence to put Kelly’s name into the public domain without technically doing so was a charade. First the ministry of defence press office and Downing Street provided information by which Kelly’s name might be guessed – including the fact that he was a former UNSCOM weapons inspector – and then press officers were instructed that, if the right name was put to them, they were at liberty to confirm it.  This strategy, which was essentially a dishonest way of giving Kelly’s name to journalists while enabling the government to deny that it had done so, led to the Times putting no fewer than twenty names to the ministry of defence before the right one was eventually confirmed.

IN HIS SPECTATOR ARTICLE Peter Oborne writes that ‘no one familiar with how Whitehall operates under New Labour would be readily convinced that the real decision [to reveal Kelly’s identity in this way] was made at the MoD.’ He also reports, as many others have done, that Tony Blair himself denied being party to this strategy: ‘Questioned on his Far-East trip, Tony Blair angrily denied that he had authorised the leak and asserted that “we have acted properly throughout”’.

However, if the contemporary reports of Blair’s actual words are inspected closely it becomes clear that there were actually two accusations which were being made. One was that he had authorised the direct leaking of Kelly’s name by Downing Street or by the ministry of defence (which had allegedly taken place in relation to one or two journalists). The other was that he had approved of the strategy whereby hints about Kelly’s identity had been dropped and his name subsequently confirmed. On 23 July the Daily Telegraph reported his denial of the first of these two charges:

Speaking on a flight to Hong Kong, Mr Blair bristled when asked if he authorised Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence to pass Dr Kelly’s identity to the press. ‘That is completely untrue,’ he said. Emphatically not. I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly.

However the Guardian, in common with a number of other newspapers, reported the crucial second part of this exchange:

Speaking to reporters on the plane en route from Shanghai to Hong Kong, the prime minister stated categorically: ‘I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly.’

Mr Blair said he ‘emphatically’ did not authorise the leak, but he said the confirmation of Dr Kelly’s name was a different matter, adding that the judicial inquiry he had set up would look at all the facts.

Questioned on why the government confirmed Dr Kelly’s identity, he replied: ‘That's a completely different matter once the name is out there. The inquiry can look at these things [italics added].

What this report makes clear is that, contrary to what has been widely accepted, Blair did not deny that he had authorised the strategy which was actually used in order to ‘launder’ Dr Kelly’s name into the public domain. Indeed he strongly implied that he considered that this strategy was a legitimate one.

It may well be that it was Blair’s own involvement with a strategy which was clearly duplicitous, and which was evidently intended to intensify yet further a war with the BBC which Blair knew to be a diversionary stratagem, which directly occasioned his apparently guilt-stricken reaction to the news of the Dr Kelly's death. Knowing what he did, Blair may very easily have imagined that there really were grounds for Dr Kelly’s widow to accuse him of having blood on his hands.

Whatever the true origins of the decision to identify Dr Kelly were, their consequence is by now clear. Dr Kelly in effect found himself trapped in what may well have begun as a white lie, but which now could not but have very grave consequences indeed. That he continued to give an almost entirely dishonest account of his meeting with the journalist Andrew Gilligan to the foreign affairs select committee appears to have been the most serious misjudgment he ever made in a long and distinguished career. This at least would appear to be the conclusion that he reached in his own mind; two days after he had given his evidence he exacted the most merciless kind of vengeance on himself.

DURING LORD HUTTON’S INQUIRY into the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly’s death, the evidence for Dr Kelly’s dishonesty will inevitably be a principal issue. But many questions about other forms of apparent dishonesty will be raised, in relation to statements made by Geoff Hoon, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and the decision of  the BBC to describe Kelly, who was not a member of the intelligence services, as ‘an intelligence source’.

Perhaps the principal problem which faces the inquiry, however, is the fact that the real crisis of confidence in Tony Blair’s government is not the one which has been occasioned by the death of Dr Kelly. It is the one which preceded and appears to have precipitated this death – namely the crisis of confidence surrounding the whole manner in which the government made the case for going to war with Iraq.

We should not forget that it was on precisely this broad issue that the recent foreign affairs committee inquiry was supposed to have focused. However, instead of pursuing this aim single-mindedly, the committee allowed itself to be deflected from its course by one of its principal witnesses. It allowed Alastair Campbell to exploit its proceedings (and the absolute privilege which select committees confer upon their witnesses) in order to  launch a fierce attack on the BBC and Andrew Gilligan whom he accused of ‘lying’.

The entire inquiry was in this manner effectively hijacked by Downing Street and diverted onto the secondary issue of Campbell’s quarrel with the BBC  – a quarrel in which, as would eventually become clear, David Kelly played a central role.

If Lord Hutton’s inquiry is to emerge eventually as a servant of the truth rather than as the servant of a government which appears to be intent on concealing the truth, then it would seem that it can only do so by effectively ignoring the narrow terms of reference it has been set and pursuing these broader questions.

In a recent leader the Guardian suggested that it was not open to Lord Hutton to do this. ‘The narrower the focus of his beam,’ it suggested, ‘the brighter the light’.

It would seem to be the case, however, that the true situation is almost the exact reverse of this: the narrower the focus of the beam of inquiry, the deeper will be the surrounding darkness and the greater will have been the government’s success in diverting attention from the broader issue of why it led us into war in the first place. There is, in short, a grave danger that the Hutton inquiry may become exactly what the prime minister presumably hopes it will be: a brilliant continuation of the diversionary strategy initiated by Alastair Campbell when he gave evidence to the select committee.

Even if, as many watching journalists seem devoutly to hope, the result of the inquiry is that ‘heads roll’, and even if the heads in question were to include that of Tony Blair himself, it is by no means clear that this would in itself further the cause of honesty and integrity in public life. For it would seem that it is our terror of forced resignations and social disgrace which has helped to create the culture of deceit and dishonesty we have now institutionalised, and which was probably responsible for driving David Kelly to his death in the first place.

An inquiry which set out to address these problems would have to probe questions far larger then have been placed before Lord Hutton and which no law lord, however elevated, can or should be expected to address. Such an inquiry would inevitably have to concern itself with the origins of our present crisis of political trust both in our recent and our more remote history.

The resulting questions would bear not only on the role of government but also on the proper role of the media. For although we have inherited an assumption that a free press is an essential condition of a healthy democracy, it would appear to be the case that, as the vaunted freedom of the press has flourished, so governments seem to have become less trustworthy and less truthful. At the same time the entire climate of public opinion is in danger of being dominated by media barons and trans-national press corporations. Public broadcasting corporations such as the BBC have perforce to compete with such corporations in order to retain audiences.

In our pursuit of freedom and democracy we appear in practice to have subjected ourselves to a new form of autocracy. This new free market tyranny seems sometimes to have had a profoundly corrosive effect on the practice of politics. The culture of spin and distortion represented by former journalist Alastair Campbell, which has provided the very foundation of the current Labour government, is but one example of this kind of corrosion.

Questions about why this state of affairs has come about go to the very heart of our quotidian beliefs about democracy, press freedom and even the very nature of liberalism. Such questions will remain long after Lord Hutton has reported. It is important that we do not allow them to be eclipsed. 

11 August 2003; corrected 18 August; 1 November (see notes below)



The original version of this article relied in part on press photographs of the scene of Dr Kelly's death to reconstruct what had happened on Harrowdown Hill. Like many other commentators I assumed that the police incident tent shown in these photographs had been erected over the spot where the body had been found. In fact this was not the case as eventually became clear when members of the search party who found the body gave evidence to the Hutton inquiry. I have now, rather belatedly (1 November 2003), revised the article accordingly.

[1]  The earlier version of this paragraph read as follows: 'On one point Kelly would certainly have been under no illusion: his identity had not been deliberately leaked into the public domain in order for him to confirm Gilligan’s story as broadly accurate. It was not with this end in mind that he had been accompanied to the foreign affairs committee by two burly
minders who sat behind him as he gave his evidence. Although, technically, Kelly was not under arrest, a casual observer, seeing him arrive at the hearing in haste with two men who appeared to be Ministry of Defence policemen, might have been forgiven for thinking otherwise.' I was following here accounts which appeared in a number of broadsheet newspapers including the Daily Telegraph. But, according to evidence which emerged in the Hutton inquiry, Dr Kelly's 'minders' were apparently not ministry of defence policemen but civil servants. Although pressure may well have been applied by their presence, the particular inference I drew in the original version of this paragraph would appear to have been unwarranted. 

[2]  The Times report appears, however, to have been incorrect. In his evidence to the Hutton inquiry, Andrew Gilligan said that he had himself avoided referring to Alastair Campbell in his report because of his difficult relationship with him and because 'I did not want to be the first to name him in this context'.  The inquiry also had before it an email from Kevin Marsh, the Today programme editor, who said that the omission of Campbell's name from the original report 'was not the result of any conscious decision-making process: I was content with AG's formulation of "Downing Street" in the Today reports and did not consider asking him to change it' (Hutton, p. 122, 14-17).

[3] The original version wrongly stated that Campbell had actually chaired a meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The meeting was in fact a planning session which related to the content of the dossier and it was originally understood by members of parliament on the foreign affairs committee that this meeting had been chaired by Sir John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The relevant paragraphs from the foreign affairs committee report read as follows:

78. Mr Campbell supplied us with a list of changes to the September dossier which were requested by him, some of which were made and some not. The first thing we note from this paper is that Mr Campbell actually chaired the planning meeting which took place on 9 September. This was surprising, because we were told by a FCO official, albeit one who had not attended the drafting meetings, that they had been chaired by the Chairman of the JIC.  We are concerned that a meeting to discuss a document which Ministers had asked the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee to prepare was chaired by the Prime Minister's Special Adviser.

79. We conclude that it was wrong for Alastair Campbell or any Special Adviser to have chaired a meeting on an intelligence matter, and we recommend that this practice cease.

[4] The original version of this passage read: 'It was clearly also a significant misjudgment when one of the editors of the programme subsequently cleared for publication the Mail on Sunday article in which Gilligan actually named Alastair Campbell.' This was based on a report in the Guardian. In evidence disclosed to the Hutton inquiry, however, this version of events was contradicted. It would appear that Kevin Marsh, the editor of the Today programme, had been unable to vet the Mail article and that he had given Gilligan to understand that somebody else should perform this task. The relevant section of the email from Kevin Marsh to Stephen Mitchell, his line-manager at the BBC, reads as follows:

I did not read the Mail on Sunday article. AG approached me on, I think, the afternoon of the original broadcast to say that he had been asked to write a piece for The Mail on Sunday. I told him straightaway that I would not be able to read it and that he would have to find someone else to vet it. I explained I was due to be in Lincolnshire at [an event]. AG said the piece would go no further than what he had already broadcast - therefore I had no reason to assume that he would name Alastair Campbell (as he had not done on the BBC) nor give more details of the meeting with his source. I said that if he was simply rewriting what had already gone out on the BBC then in principle I did not object to him writing a piece  - but said again that he would have to make arrangements for someone else to finally approve his copy since I would not be able to.

Asked by James Dingemans QC, counsel to the inquiry, whether someone else had approved the copy, Gilligan said 'No'.

[5] As will be apparent, the belief that Campbell chaired a meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee is widespread and the same mistake appeared in the original version of this piece. The relevant passage here has therefore been re-phrased.

[6]  This sentence was added after Alastair Campbell gave evidence to the inquiry on 19 August.

Ditto this paragraph.

[8] Ditto the last two sentences of this paragraph.

[9] Once again the original version of this article mistakenly had Campbell chairing a meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee and added: 'That he should actually have chaired a committee which is traditionally completely unsullied by kind of politic influence is nothing less than extraordinary.'


The Kelly affair: a library of links


Andrew Gilligan's original Today programme report

29 May 2003 (This is the version from the BBC website; the version on the Guardian website contains only the second half of the report and is therefore seriously misleading.)

Susan Watts's Newsnight reports
2 June and 4 June 2003

Alastair Campbell accuses the BBC of lying
25 June 2003, Campbell's evidence to the foreign affairs committee

Extract from foreign affairs committee report: Andrew Gilligan and Alastair Campbell
7 July 2003: the most relevant section of the report which deals with the 45-minute claim.

Evidence of Dr David Kelly to the foreign affairs committee
On Tuesday 15 July 2003 the foreign affairs committee reconvened to hear the evidence of Dr Kelly

Press coverage

BBC on edge of defeat

Friday 4 July: in advance of a meeting of the BBC governors arranged for Sunday, and the publication of the foreign affairs committee report on Monday, the Times reports  that the BBC is 'on the edge of defeat'. This information is said to come from unnamed 'corporation executives'.

BBC denial
4 July: In a story in the online edition of the Guardian, datelined 5pm the BBC, in the person of Richard Sambrook, denies the substance of the story which appeared in the paper earlier that same day.

'Even if the source was wrong we shouldn't apologise'
7 July: Today  programme presenter John Humphrys gives his full backing to Andrew Gilligan's report.

'The war against Gilligan is 90% confected outrage, 10% personal animus by Alastair Campbell'

8 July: Rod Liddle, a former editor of the Today programme and the man who originally hired Andrew Gilligan accuses Downing Street of confecting outrage at the BBC in order to divert attention away from the real issues concerning the decision to go to war with Iraq.

BBC plays its cards close to its chest
9 July: In a key article in the Guardian Patrick Wintour, a journalist who is known to be close to Alastair Campbell, explains the view taken of Dr David Kelly by Downing Street.

The vendetta's victim
19 July: Guardian reports the suicide of Dr Kelly

A haunted man
20 July: the Observer reports on the Kelly tragedy.

Dr Kelly: I felt betrayed when the MoD revealed my name
20 July: Nicholas Rufford writes in the Sunday Times about what Kelly said in his last interview.

A tragic death, but part of me cannot help but admire it
21 July: Novelist Tim Lott on the possible motivation of Kelly's suicide. In this article Lott puts forward a view of Kelly's death which is very close to the one I outline here.

Who will rid us of the over-mighty Campbell?
21 July: Robert Harris, author and New Labour insider, offers his extraordinary account of the relationship between Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell.

BBC said no to truce on dossier row
21 July: The Guardian reports that the BBC tuned down the offer of a truce from Downing Street in the week before the name of Dr Kelly was put into the public domain.

Dr Kelly and the death of political life
21 July: Mick Hume writes in Spiked about the Kelly affair: 'Suicide is rarely heroic; it is far more often a cowardly way out of a crisis, and one that usually leaves behind much bitterness and anger among loved ones.'

The leak, the name. Who is to blame?
23 July: this key report in the Guardian by Ewen MacAskill, Michael White, Richard Norton-Taylor and Kevin Maguire casts some light on reports earlier in the month that the BBC was 'on the edge of defeat'.

This BBC row is not about sources - it is about power
24 July: Jackie Ashley in the Guardian on the threat to the BBC posed by Rupert Murdoch

A despicable and cowardly diversion
26 July: in this defence of Andrew Gilligan Rod Liddle returns to the theme of Downing Street's allegedly confected rage.

The fall guy
26 July: Peter Oborne, the political editor of the Spectator, on Patrick Wintour and the reasons for tracing the leaking of Kelly's name to Downing Street.

New role for Campbell as he plans exit

27 July: Writing in the Observer, Kamal Ahmed says that Tony Blair believed his political career was hanging by a thread when news came of Dr Kelly's suicide: 'The Prime Minister was concerned that if Kelly's wife, Janice, accused the Prime Minister of having blood on his hands, his future could not be assured.'

Liddle's legacy
28 July: Matt Wells, media correspondent of the Guardian, offers a moderately critical account of Rod Liddle's influence on BBC journalism and the Today programme.

Every prime minister must have an Alastair Campbell
29 July:  Hugo Young, writing in the Guardian, argues that, because of the bullying power of the media, the counter-spin of the likes of Campbell is necessary in a healthy democracy.

Who was the real Dr Kelly? Innocent or serial leaker, honest victim or liar, scientist or spy?

1 August: Tom Baldwin, the Times journalist who is close to Alastair Campbell, offers his view of the Kelly affair.

Nobody blinks in high-stakes gamble between Campbell and the BBC
1 August: Baldwin again on the BBC, Rod Liddle and the Guardian.

Do shoot the messenger
1 August: Former BBC correspondent Nick Jones writes in Red Pepper on the extent of Alastair Campbell's powers.

Fair and exact
2 August: the Guardian, in a leader, suggests that the Hutton inquiry has started well: 'Some will continue to argue that he should study the broad question of how the government presented intelligence before the start of the Iraq war . . . The case for a proper inquiry into these issues remains strong. But Lord Hutton cannot take it upon himself to meet this need. The narrower the focus of his beam, the brighter the light.'

Sitting in judgement on democracy
5 August: Brendan O'Neill, writing in Spiked, takes a more sceptical view of Hutton and suggests that the elevation of law lords degrades the political process

6/7/8/9 August 2003    

LATEST LINKS (last updated 22 August)

Foreign affairs committee: Transcript of evidence given by Andrew Gilligan in private session on 17 July 2003

Times: The MP, the BBC reporter and a missing email

Guardian: BBC bosses refuse public support for Gilligan email

Roy Hattersley: Why Today is bad news for everybody

Polly Toynbee: Lest we forget: September's dossier did not send us to war

Brian Whitaker: Searching for answers

: Hoon suggested a plea bargain over Kelly

Spectator: Nigel West on how Labour has subverted British intelligence

Scotsman: Pressure built on Kelly every day

  Hutton page

Guardian:  Hutton page | Comment media | Comment politics

Hutton archive

Telegraph Hutton page | Hutton comment


© Richard Webster, 2003