The BBC was doing its job bring back Gilligan
By Boris Johnson
So there he goes again. The cordite is carried off by the breeze. The dust settles and out of the crater creeps the Prime Minister, beaming his chipmunk grin. He acknowledges the cheers of his back benches, flicks an invisible speck from his irreproachable Paul Smith sleeve and saunters off back to Downing Street.
It is just flipping unbelievable. He is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet. He is barely human in his elusiveness. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall.
For weeks we have been told that his extermination at the hands of Hutton has been as predetermined as the convergence of the Titanic and the iceberg. And now what? The judge has decided that the Prime Minister behaved with complete honour and candour throughout.
Blair, Hoon, Scarlett, the whole lot of them, have been sprayed with more whitewash than a Costa Brava timeshare. Hutton has succumbed to blindness of Nelsonian proportions. As snow-jobs go, this beats the Himalayas.
With unerring inaccuracy, he has trained his guns at exactly the wrong target. He has blasted the BBC when, as I will repeat to my dying day, it was Blair, Campbell and Hoon who were the guilty men.
How, you may be asking, do I dare to dissent from the opinions of the judge? I dissent because I have read the evidence presented to Hutton, and I put it to you that the judge is noble, learned and talking through the back of his neck.
Let us remember how this affair began. On Tuesday September 24, 2002, Tony Blair stood in the House and waved a document of which he had high hopes. "The threat of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda," he said. "The history and present threat are real."
Coo-er, we all thought and, as we riffled through the pages, we found the most chilling detail of all. "The document discloses that Saddam's military planning allows for some of the weapons of mass destruction to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them," wrote Blair in the foreword.
Wow, we thought: 45 minutes from attack! Cripes, said a banner headline in the Evening Standard: "45 minutes from attack". In so far as these claims made sense, they were piffle.
Saddam turned out not to have such stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and certainly no capacity to launch them "in 45 minutes". What we did not know was that this claim was included despite the misgivings of Brian Jones, the most senior and experienced MoD official working on WMD. One of his team had protested that the 45-minute business was "rather strong, since it was based on a single source".
On September 19, Brian Jones had a meeting to discuss the dossier with Dr David Kelly CMG, who acted as a consultant to the Defence Intelligence Staff and who had enormous experience of Iraq. Kelly suggested a number of changes, notably dropping the claim that Iraq was trying to conceal WMD by building mobile facilities.
By this stage, alas, it no longer mattered what the experts thought. The intelligence chiefs - principally John Scarlett - were in constant textual negotiation with Downing Street, and the protests of their juniors were ignored. On September 20, an unnamed MoD official felt obliged to write a further letter of complaint. "The draft still includes a number of statements which are not supported by the evidence available to me what I wish to record is that it has NOT been established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons."
His words were unheeded. It is extraordinary, reading the Hutton inquiry evidence, to see the grip that Downing Street exercised on the language of what purported to be an intelligence document.
Alastair Campbell chaired a team to "go through the presentational aspects" of the document; but he also required, and was granted, many important textual changes. One stands out.
Despite the reluctance of Jones, Kelly and others, the draft dossier still said: "The Iraq military may be able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so." Campbell said "may" sounded too weak. On the say-so of a Downing Street spin doctor, all doubt was expunged.
Public and Parliament were presented with justifications for war that (a) did not reflect the opinions of those who knew most about Iraqi weapons; and (b) had been in key ways embellished by Alastair Campbell. Neither of these staggering facts would have come to light, had it not been for Andrew Gilligan.
On May 22, 2003, after Baghdad had fallen and in the curious absence of the WMD, he talked to David Kelly about the September dossier. Gilligan broadcast an account a few days later on the BBC.
In the light of what we now know, the Today broadcast of 6.07am 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. He changed the mood of the sentence, as grammarians might put it, from the conditional to the indicative, and his intention was to make the threat sound more scary.
You do not have to oppose the war - and I supported the removal of Saddam - to see that is news worth reporting. What makes the Government's conduct contemptible is not just that it denied the story, but found the source of the story and put him before the public, in the hope that he would help it quash it. Unable to deny the story, but ashamed to confess that he had been the source, Kelly killed himself.
Whatever Hutton says, Mr Blair has behaved with great slipperiness, not so much for his role in identifying Dr Kelly, but in then denying his role. WMD has been Blair's ERM. He asked everyone to believe in what turned out to be a fraud. He has lost the trust of the people, and of his backbenchers. As for Andrew Gilligan, he had an important, accurate and exclusive story, and should be reinstated forthwith to his job on Today.
Boris Johnson is MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator
So, where do we go from here? Bliar's still there, Buff Hoon's still there and Soupy's wandering around, looking smug and, no doubt, is waiting for his invite back to creep back into No. 10.
The worst and most galling consequence of this episode is that Buffa will, most probably, avoid the mountain of shite due to fall upon his head over the supply scandal. The media have taken their eye off the ball and, by the time that the dust clears, the MoD's failings will be yesterday's news.
I have to swim against the tide here (you guys sure do take a different view of your government's dealings than those burghers at Military.com) and say that, yes, it was balanced, but it was also what it was, an investigation into the death of a scientist. It's still disgraceful that Gavyn Davies, let alone Greg Dyke, has had to resign, but the Beeb made a mistake which, if corrected earlier, would have prevented things from going so far, so tragically, and derailing discussion of the real issues for so many months. As I believe I said elsewhere, the real inquiry into the spurious justifications for going to war has yet to take place, and where we go from here is pressing for that inquiry. Just heard today that Anita Roddick is organising a petition for just that. Worth checking out.
And don't forget Question Time tonight. Menzies Campbell (no relation!) is on.
there is quite a bit of disquiet in the country about this report look at questiontime last night. The government came up completley vindicated yet they held meetings on how to get Dr Kelly's name into the press chaired by the primeminister. The prime ministers comments on the plane to japan? to journalists do not tally with the evidence he gave to the hutton committee.
Looks like Blair has done what Maggie couldnt. Bring the BBC into line. He's not in her league but he's not far away- much to my disgust. He looked like the cat who got the cream yesterday, but this may have damaged him enough to go before the next election with Brooon waiting in the wings!
A LAST-minute attempt by the government to influence the Hutton Report included an effort to smear the name of Dr David Kelly, by claiming he refused to face up to facts after he was identified as the source of Andrew Gilligans story.
In a 128-page document submitted after Lord Hutton had finished taking evidence - and which was kept secret until after the publication of the report - the government claimed Dr Kelly was not an easy man to help, that he refused to face facts, and that his employers had done all they could to help him.
The discovery that the government had sent a final written submission to Lord Hutton prompted a political row earlier this month, with Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, saying that news of the document had triggered "very serious concerns", and demanding that they be made public.
The government claimed it was making "points and arguments" and correcting factual errors.
But yesterday, it emerged that the governments submissions on the character of Dr Kelly, in particular, were closely reflected in Lord Huttons report.
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader at Westminster, described the revelations as dynamite. He said: "It seems uncanny that the government description of Dr Kelly should be so eerily echoed by Lord Hutton".
"It seems his lordship gave extraordinary weight to the last-ditch submissions, and it reinforces the growing impression that perhaps his lordship should simply have allowed the government to write the report. These matters are extremely serious."
A number of points appear in both Lord Huttons report and the government submission. They include the conclusion that Mr Gilligans story represented an "attack on the integrity of the government", the contention that the BBC governors could have investigated the governments complaints without infringing the corporations independence, and the claim that it was necessary to name Dr Kelly to avoid accusations of a cover-up.
However, final submissions from the BBC, Gilligan and Dr Kellys family appear to have failed to sway Lord Huttons thinking.
The government had initially refused to divulge details of its final written evidence to the inquiry. But when it was finally published on Wednesday, it appeared it had struck a chord with Lord Hutton.
Most obvious were the governments submissions about Dr Kellys character, which Labour used to defend its handling of the scientist after it had released his name to the media.
The submissions suggested that any consideration of the support it gave its employee had to be weighed against the difficulties presented by his own personality.
It added that attempts to speak to Dr Kelly in person had been difficult, and brief phone conversations could have been extended if Dr Kelly had wished.
"All the indications are that Dr Kelly was refusing to face facts in this period," said the submission.
And it noted: "Dr Kelly was never a man whom it was easy to help, particularly in this last period of his life. However, there are no grounds for criticism of the attempts which were made to help him.
"Mrs Kelly herself acknowledged that her husband was not an easy man to support in some ways."
When Lord Hutton came to deliver his conclusions, he used virtually the same arguments to defend the behaviour of the Ministry of Defence.
Explaining why there were mitigating circumstances for the MoDs failure to tell Dr Kelly his name had been released to the media, Lord Huttons report said: "Individual officials in the MoD did try to help and support him in the ways which I have [previously] described and ... because of his intensely private nature, Dr Kelly was not an easy man to help or to whom to give advice."
In his statement, Lord Hutton admitted he had initially considered there could be a case against the government.
But something appears to have changed his mind.
In its submission, the government argued that Gilligans allegations amounted to "a serious attack on the integrity of the government" and undermined public confidence in the governmental process.
Lord Hutton, commenting on the BBCs allegation that the government probably knew at the time of publication that intelligence contained in the dossier was wrong, described it as "an attack on the integrity of the government itself".
Remarking on the decision to reveal that Dr Kelly had come forward as the possible source of Gilligans story, the government argued that "to have concealed these matters from the committees would have been a grave dereliction of duty with serious implications for the relations between government and Parliament. It would have attracted strong and justified public criticism."
Lord Huttons summary said: "I consider it to be clear that if the government had not issued a statement that a civil servant had come forward and information of this leaked out later... the government would have been faced with a serious charge of a cover up."
When the government lawyers argued that "once it was known that an official had come forward, his identity was likely to become known to the press, quite independently of the processes of the two committees, whatever the government did", Lord Hutton agreed.
He said in his ruling: "I am satisfied that once Dr Kelly had informed the MoD that he had spoken to Mr Gilligan, the governments view that Dr Kellys name as a source for Mr Gilligans reports was bound to become public, whether the government issued a statement or not was well founded."