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Dr Kelly Was Not The Only Source For The Story
JNV Anti-War Briefing 55 (5 February 2004)

Posted: 13 February 2004

Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian, writes, 'Of course the BBC got it wrong. Gilligan, those little demons driving him on, blathered an allegation too far.' But, 'this was one lone - and now unemployed - guy, out of nearly 4,000 BBC news division employees, talking off the cuff, letting a single sharp sliver of fact slide out of place on a bleary dawn when his editor was off duty, attending a wedding.' (Observer, 1 Feb., p. 21)

At the other end of the political spectrum, in the Daily Telegraph, columnist Sarah Sands observed: 'Of course Andrew Gilligan should have thought about what he was going to say, of course there should have been closer editorial checks but did this offence deserve the annihilation of the BBC?' (30 Jan., p. 28)

There is almost universal acceptance that 'there should have been closer editorial checks', but this received wisdom is based on the fact that the Today editor Kevin Marsh has not been heard. Mr Marsh was not called as a witness by Lord Hutton (nor was his boss, head of BBC radio news Stephen Mitchell), despite Lord Hutton's criticism of the BBC editorial system.

If Mr Marsh had been called, he would have cleared up some misconceptions. 'Despite the claim that managers did not check Gilligan's personal organizer notes for a month, BBC sources say that Marsh did see a set of notes entered into the BBC's internal computer system on May 28.' These notes were used to write a script for the following day's 7.32am "two-way" between the Today studio and Mr Gilligan; this script 'did not contain the assertion that the government inserted the 45-minute claim into the Iraq dossier knowing it was wrong.'

BBC sources told the Guardian that Mr Gilligan should have had this script to hand when he made the 6.07am broadcast. 'That's the convention,' said a Today programme source. Another BBC source said, 'There's this idea that the 6.07 wasn't scripted, but Andrew should have had the 7.32 script in front of him, and should not have deviated from it.' (5 Feb., p. 9)

Thus Lord Hutton was wrong to say that, 'the BBC should not have permitted Mr Gilligan to broadcast his report at 6.07am without editors having seen the script of what he was going to say.' (Telegraph, 29 Jan.,p. 3) The 7.32am script was there, and should have been followed for the 6:07am two-way.

Telegraph columnist Frank Johnson suggests that the key question is whether Andrew Gilligan's reporting 'helped show voters that Mr Blair and Mr Campbell exaggerated the threat to Britain'. Mr Gilligan's reporting 'showed just that', and 'therefore told, essentially, the truth, and did voters a service.' (31 Jan., p. 26) Editor of the right-wing Spectator magazine, Boris Johnson writes that the Gilligan scoop was 'justified reporting': 'The data were unreliable, the spooks were unhappy, notably about the 45-minute claim, and Campbell "sexed it up" to the point of invention' (changing a crucial sentence in the dossier, for example). (Telegraph, 29 Jan., p. 21)

Sir Bernard Ingham, formerly press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, agrees: 'Gilligan got it broadly right, but wrong in the detail.' At the other end of the spectrum, the man who brought Mr Gilligan onto Today, Rod Liddle, also defends his protege: the story was 'an important story in the public interest' which was '95 per cent correct'. (Independent, 3 Feb., Media, p. 8)

Former BBC Director-General, Lord Birt, disagrees, saying, 'The central thrust of the story was unfounded.' (Times, 5 Feb., p. 13) In contrast, resigning from the BBC on 30 Jan., Mr Gilligan stated that 'most of my story was right': 'The Government did sex up the dossier, transforming possibilities and probabilities into certainties, removing vital caveats; the 45-minute claim was the classic example of this and many in the intelligence services, including the leading expert in WMD, were unhappy about it.' (Daily Express, 31 Jan., p. 6)

Crucially, Dr Kelly was not, despite all that has been written, the only source for the 'sexing-up' story. The editor of Today, Kevin Marsh, himself had two other sources, one of which could not be more authoritative: the head of MI6. 'Sir Richard [Dearlove] and two Secret Intelligence Service colleagues briefed Today on April 11...

'Mr Marsh interpreted Sir Richard's words as meaning that MI6 was admitting that the intelligence did not support the case for war against Iraq... that hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would never be found. This, it is said, struck him as an odd conclusion if, at the time the September dossier was published, these weapons were being held at 45 minutes' readiness. Mr Marsh let the BBC know that, in his subsequent contacts with MI6, no other interpretation of the meeting with Sir Richard was put forward.' (Times, 27 Jan., p. 2)

Then, hours before Andrew Gilligan drew up the script for his pivotal broadcasts, Today editor Kevin Marsh met Clare Short, former Development Minister, who 'told him that no intelligence had been produced which conclusively demonstrated that Iraq was an imminent threat': 'Her words helped to persuade the programme to believe Mr Gilligan's apparent scoop: that Downing Street inserted a claim, against the wishes of experts, that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.' (Times, 27 Jan., p. 1)

Lord Hutton never heard this crucial background because, bizarrely, he never called Andrew Gilligan's editor as a witness, and therefore did not read Kevin Marsh's statement, prepared for the Inquiry. Sir Richard Dearlove was not named in the statement, which referred only to a 'senior intelligence source', but two newspapers have been informed that it was the MI6 chief himself. (Times, 27 Jan., p. 1; Observer, 1 Feb., p. 1)

Andrew Gilligan wrongly attributed one of his own opinions to Dr Kelly when he suffered an unscripted slip of the tongue and said the Government 'probably' knew the 45 minute claim was wrong or unreliable when it inserted the claim into the Sept. 2002 dossier; he didn't admit this weakness in his 6:07am report until he testified before Lord Hutton; and he named Dr Kelly as the source for another BBC report. (Sunday Telegraph, 1 Feb. p. 1) He did a lot of things wrong.

Senior BBC managers 'said that Gilligan's failure to own up to his mistakes at the earliest opportunity set in train the events leading to the suicide of Dr David Kelly, the Hutton Inquiry and the resignation last week of Greg Dyke... and Gavyn Davies.' (Sunday Telegraph, 1 Feb., p. 1) Perhaps, but the fact is that Andrew Gilligan's central story was backed by authoritative secondary sources, and it was right.

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