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BBC says Kelly tape backs its Iraq report

Pubcaster's position strengthened as probe continues

LONDON — The BBC revealed Wednesday that it has a tape of an interview with Ministry of Defense scientist David Kelly, who committed suicide July 17, that will back its “sexed-up” Iraq report and prove that he was the lone source.

The tape reinforces BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan’s May 29 report on Radio Four’s “Today” program alleging that the government had exaggerated evidence to suggest that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

Report sparked a fierce row between the pubcaster and the government — the case for war in Iraq has become the biggest political crisis of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s six-year rule.

The conversations with Kelly were recorded by Susan Watts, science editor of BBC2’s “Newsnight,” for her report broadcast June 2. Like Gilligan, Watts also suggested that the government was “desperate” for information and exaggerated “out of all proportion” available evidence to justify war in Iraq.

In Watts’ report, an actor speaks her source’s words, saying of the 45-minute claim: “They were pushing hard for information which could be released. That was one that popped up and it was seized on, and it’s unfortunate that it was.

“That’s why there is the argument between the intelligence services and the Cabinet Office/No. 10 — because they picked up on it, and once they’ve picked up on it, you can’t pull it back from them.”

Kelly told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that he did not believe he was the main source of Gilligan’s story, but later told former BBC journalist Tom Mangold that he was.

The existence of the tape and the admission to Mangold suggests that Kelly could have been deeply worried about whether he had told the full story to the committee.

The BBC plans to submit the tape to the judicial inquiry led by Judge James Edward Hutton, who is understood to want the investigation into Kelly’s death broadcast live on television. However, that would require the participation of the BBC and commercial broadcasters.

Probe, which is expected to take two months, aims to establish whether proper government procedures were followed by the Ministry of Defense and the government in their handling of the weapons inspector. Blair, director of communications Alastair Campbell and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon are expected to give evidence.

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