BBC Reporter Admits Mistakes in Broadcasts on Dossier

July 7, 2008 - 7:14 PM

London (CNSNews.com) - A BBC journalist admitted making errors in live radio broadcasts but has stood by his reporting on a British dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs during a renewed round of questioning Wednesday.

The testimony of BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan came during the inquiry into the apparent suicide of government weapons expert David Kelly.

Conversations between Gilligan and Kelly and the reports the journalist derived from them were in the spotlight on Wednesday. It was Gilligan's second appearance in front of the inquiry, headed by judge Lord Hutton.

On May 29, using Kelly as his sole anonymous source, Gilligan reported that the government had "sexed up" - or exaggerated - parts of last September's dossier in order to make the case for war.

That report sparked an argument between the British Broadcasting Corp. and the government, which led to the naming of Kelly and his appearance in July in front of a House of Commons committee. He was found dead three days later.

Gilligan admitted on Wednesday that he made an error during early broadcasts, when he described Kelly as an "intelligence service source" and said the government knew one claim in the dossier, that Saddam Hussein could launch WMD within 45 minutes, was wrong.

"It was not intentional, it was the kind of slip of the tongue that does happen often during live broadcasts," Gilligan testified. "It is an occupational hazard, which is why it would have been better to have scripted this one."

Although a world-renowned expert on chemical and biological weapons, Kelly was an advisor to the Ministry of Defense and not Britain's intelligence services.

Gilligan also apologized for naming Kelly to a Member of Parliament as the source of a separate report by another BBC journalist at a time when he was refusing to divulge his own sources. He excused the revelation by saying that he wasn't thinking about his actions and was under pressure when he named Kelly.

Cross-examination

During the inquiry's second phase, Hutton has allowed witnesses to be cross-examined by lawyers from the BBC, the government and Kelly's family.

Gilligan's account of his key meeting with Kelly has conflicted with other testimony given by the scientist's friends.

He has claimed that Kelly directly named Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair's former communications chief, as the person responsible for playing up headline-grabbing claims within the dossier.

Others have said Kelly recalled before his death that Gilligan suggested names and asked the scientist to confirm or deny them.

But Gilligan stuck to his story under questioning by lawyers from the Kelly family and the government.

"Dr. Kelly was not a man into whose mouth you could put words," Gilligan said.

Kelly said he had played a prominent role in compiling the dossier, Gilligan said, even though the scientist's exact involvement in project has been questioned.

Later, the BBC's director of news, Richard Sambrook, testified that he thought Gilligan was "extremely good at finding out information, but there are sometimes questions of nuances and subtlety in how he presents it."

Sambrook also said that the government should have been given a greater chance to respond to the story, that Gilligan should have made more careful notes of his meetings with Kelly and that the journalist should have scripted his live broadcasts.

Government officials, including Campbell and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, will be recalled to testify next week. After the second phase, Hutton has said he will compile a final report on the hearings.

See Earlier Story:
Probe of British Weapons Expert's Death Resumes
(Sept. 15, 2003)

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