- Senior BBC executives seemed isolated from their own
staff last night when the corporation implicitly accused David Kelly of
failing to be entirely open when he appeared before MPs last week.
- Andrew Gilligan, the journalist at the centre of the
row, said he did not misquote Dr Kelly in his original report. Executives
believe privately that the scientist, who committed suicide on Thursday,
held reservations about Downing Street's involvement in the notorious September
dossier which he did not air to the foreign affairs select committee.
- But journalists, editors and presenters contacted by
the Guardian yesterday questioned - on condition of anonymity - the credibility
of this stance. They expressed doubt about the positions of Gilligan and
Richard Sambrook, the director of news, who has given unswerving support
to the reporter since he learned that Dr Kelly was his source. A few even
talk darkly of revolt. Support for Gilligan, outside the increasingly fraught
confines of the Today programme where he is defence and diplomatic correspondent,
is slipping away.
- "It's one thing if the top brass choose to go to
the wall for Gilligan. It's quite another if they expect us to do it too,"
one insider said.
- In an attempt to shore up Gilligan, the BBC put out a
statement on his behalf that insisted he did not exaggerate Dr Kelly's
claims. "I want to make it clear that I did not misquote or misrepresent
Dr David Kelly. 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. These reports have never been questioned by Downing Street."
- But the statement came too late to paper over the cracks
that were appearing between BBC executives and staff.
- The change in mood could not have been more stark. Until
9.30am on Friday, when Thames Valley police announced the disappearance
of Dr Kelly, the BBC had occupied a large expanse of sure ground. Its determination
not to reveal its source was seen as a principled stand that contrasted
favourably with the cynical and shadowy Whitehall moves to push Dr Kelly
unwillingly into the spotlight. Last night, however, the sure ground was
- A cloud of gloom descended over the organisation when
it admitted that Dr Kelly was Gilligan's source. One well-known BBC name
said of the BBC's announcement yesterday: "It's a bombshell. Like
many others here, I had the impression that the source was not Kelly. My
worry is that we may have misdescribed him right at the start, when we
called him a senior credible intelligence source. Is that really what David
Kelly was? All I can say is that I hope Andrew Gilligan has got very good
- Through the past weeks, BBC news staff have been mostly
been impressed with the support provided by the director general Greg Dyke
and Mr Sambrook.
- But some experienced and discreet BBC journalists have
always been uneasy that the corporation had been forced into battle over
Gilligan. "We have always treated him with a health warning,"
said an editor working on one influential news programme."
- Many hoped that Gilligan had another source, other than
Dr Kelly, for the key claim that Downing Street "sexed up" the
September dossier. "We were all willing to support him, but we were
desperately worried that Kelly - as it has turned out - was indeed the
- The BBC's confirmation that Dr Kelly provided the information
upon which Gilligan based his story has rocked many at the BBC. "Now
that it's been revealed that Kelly was the main source, we think Gilligan
should resign, and - reluctantly - Sambrook too," said one journalist.
- Another said: "The BBC statement is a disaster.
On the face of it, based on the evidence to hand, Gilligan sexed up his
story. The only other explanation is that David Kelly wasn't being truthful
to the committee, but I tend to think now that Gilligan did what he accused
Campbell of. And our boss backed him. If that's true, they have tarnished
each and every one of us. Until they prove otherwise they have lost my
confidence. They should go."
- One well-known BBC presenter said Gilligan was damaged
by his bruising reaction to the select committee's claim on Friday that
he had changed his story - Gilligan claimed to have been set up in front
of a "hanging jury".
- This was "lurid language", totally inappropriate
for the circumstances, the presenter said. "The Today programme is
- There is no doubt that the thrust of Gilligan's original
story on May 29 was true - the suggestion of unease among those involved
in drawing up the dossier was supported by a piece on the 10 o'clock news
by Gavin Hewitt the same evening, and two Newsnight stories by Susan Watts
in the following few days. Crucially, Hewitt and Watts did not use the
"sexing up" phrase, relying on more subtle language. Hewitt said,
in a reference to a source that has now been identified as Dr Kelly: "I've
spoken to one of those consulted on the dossier... His judgment: some spin
from No 10 did come into play."
- The important question - which remains unanswered - is
whether Dr Kelly was rowing back from the Gilligan report earlier in the
day, or whether Gilligan himself "sexed up" the quotes.
- BBC executives have staked their reputation on the defence
of the Gilligan story. If Gilligan falls, the positions of them all are
in doubt: Mr Sambrook has been the public face of the BBC's defence; his
deputy, Mark Damazer, has been intricately involved in the drawing up of
the BBC's defence; and Kevin Marsh, the respected and experienced Today
editor, was responsible for airing the story in the first place.
- Gilligan himself is said to be distraught and "in
a panic", aware that the mood has changed.
- One BBC news executive said in defence of Mr Sambrook:
"Richard has known from day one who the source was and everything
that was said about the nature of the source.
- "The top people aren't in a big flap about this.
But we can't come out and say Kelly misled the committee because the man's
a national hero. That's the hook the BBC finds itself on."
- But BBC journalists believe this is a position that is
indefensible. One said: "If that's the case, they have to prove to
Lord Hutton that Kelly misled the committee. Who will any right-minded
person believe? A man, seen as hero who has taken his own life, or a journalist
who appears shifty and evasive?"