Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 1 News List

BBC insists expert Kelly was quoted accurately

AFP AND THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The British arms expert who apparently committed suicide after a row over the way intelligence was used to launch the Iraq war was correctly quoted by the BBC, the journalist who interviewed him said Sunday.

David Kelly was found dead on Friday, following a grilling earlier in the week from a parliamentary committee examining whether or not the government "sexed up" its case for war.

"I want to make it clear that I did not misquote or misrepresent Dr. David Kelly," said a BBC statement issued on behalf of the BBC's defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan.

Kelly, a former UN weapons inspector, was the anonymous source of a May 29 BBC news report -- hotly denied by Prime Minister Tony Blair's office -- that a key dossier last September on Iraq had exaggerated the threat of Saddam Hussein's arsenal.

"Entirely separately from my meeting with him, Dr Kelly expressed very similar concerns about Downing Street interpretation of intelligence in the dossier and the unreliability of the 45-minute point to Newsnight," the statement said.

In an article in the Mail on Sunday on June 1, Gilligan claimed that Blair's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, was responsible for inserting in the dossier the claim that it could only take Saddam 45 minutes to launch his weapons of mass destruction.

"These reports have never been questioned by Downing Street," Gilligan's statement said Sunday.

"Although Dr. Kelly had close connections with the intelligence community, none of our reports ever described him as a member of the intelligence services, but as a senior official closely involved in the preparation of the dossier," the statement said.

The national broadcaster, which had previously refused to name its source, said it was "profoundly sorry" that Kelly's involvement had ended in his death, but stood by its decision to air the report.

"We continue to believe we were right to place Dr Kelly's views in the public domain," it said earlier Sunday.

While he denied being the primary source for the BBC story, Kelly admitted briefing Andrew Gilligan.

But the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which has been probing the disputed dossiers, said there was a "fundamental conflict" between the evidence given to the committee by Kelly and Gilligan.

"I think the BBC has got to look at itself long and hard now after Andrew Gilligan's latest evidence to the foreign affairs committee last Thursday," Labour MP Donald Anderson told Sky News.

The broadcaster's naming of its source turned some of the glare of the media spotlight away from Blair.

The prime minister, grappling with the biggest crisis of his political career, has been dogged by the burgeoning scandal on his trip to East Asia, even facing calls for his resignation from within his own party.

But Blair, who has previously accused the BBC of having committed "an attack on my integrity", adopted a more conciliatory tone, saying he was "pleased" the broadcaster had named Kelly as its source.

"I am pleased the BBC has made this announcement," he said in a statement following a summit with South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun. "Whatever the differences, no one wanted this tragedy to happen. I know everybody including the BBC, has been shocked by it."

Yesterday The Guardian reported that BBC bosses blocked a compromise which might have prevented Kelly's suicide.

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