BBC: Gov’t to blame

Journos confirm Kelly's Iraq contention

This article was updated at 9:00 p.m. PT on August 12, 2003.

LONDON — Two BBC journalists confirmed Tuesday that government scientist David Kelly told them a senior adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair was responsible for “sexing up” a dull dossier on Iraq’s military capability.

Radio 4’s “Today” defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts, science editor of BBC2’s “Newsnight,” said communications chief Alastair Campbell had played up a controversial claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes to strengthen the government’s case for going to war.

Both gave evidence on day two of the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Kelly’s death. The former UN weapons inspector committed suicide last month after he was named as the BBC mole.

Watts said Kelly told her about Campbell’s involvement two weeks before he spoke to Gilligan, who broke the story May 29.

According to her shorthand note of a May 7 phone interview, Kelly said of the 45-minute claim: “It was a mistake to put in. Alastair Campbell seeing something in there. Single source, not corroborated. Sounded good.”

Earlier, Gilligan faced tough questions over discrepancies between his account of his interview with Kelly and the scientist’s own recollection. The inquiry heard that an internal BBC memo spoke of Gilligan’s “flawed reporting.”

Gilligan conceded “with hindsight” that some of his reporting was “not perfect,” but said Kelly had approved the quotes he used in his report.

The government and the BBC have been at loggerheads since the reports aired, with Blair defending Campbell and demanding an apology.

Watts’ and Gilligan’s evidence contradicts several government officials who told the inquiry Monday that Campbell had not pushed for the inclusion of the 45-minute allegation.

The BBC’s head of news, Richard Sambrook, is due to give evidence at the London High Court today.

(Bobbie Whiteman in Hollywood and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)