Judge Who Cleared Blair,
Blamed BBC Accused
Of Whitewash


LONDON (AFP) -- The judge who probed the suicide of arms expert David Kelly was accused of a "whitewash" by much of Britain's daily press for clearing Prime Minister Tony Blair's government of wrongdoing while rebuking the BBC.
The rightwing Daily Mail said that judge Brian Hutton's long-awaited verdict, delivered Wednesday, had attracted "widespread incredulity."
"Justice?" the paper asked in a front page headline. It said Hutton's report "does a great disservice to the British people. It fails to set its story in the context of the BBC's huge virtues and the government's sore vices."
The British Broadcasting Corporation was plunged into turmoil, with its chairman Gavyn Davies resigning, after Hutton severely criticised the world's biggest public broadcaster.
The judge said that a BBC radio report claiming that the government deliberately exaggerated the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the US-led invasion on March 20 last year was "unfounded".
"We're faced with the wretched spectacle of the BBC chairman resigning while Alastair Campbell crows from the summit of his dungill. Does this verdict, my lord, serve the real interest of truth?" asked the Daily Mail.
Campbell is Blair's former communications director and one of the principal figures in a bitter row between the government and the BBC during which Kelly took his own life last July.
In a comment piece for the leftwing Daily Mirror tabloid, journalist Paul Routledge accused Hutton of an "establishment whitewash" which "stinks to high heaven".
Hutton's judgement "makes me feel physically sick, like a victim of a crime who knows that justice will never be done", said Routledge.
The Mirror said that the BBC had been left "shamed", but the narrowness of Hutton's remit during his inquiry "meant that the real issue -- the existence of weapons of mass destruction -- wasn't even touched on".
"Hutton's whitewash leaves questions unanswered" said the rightwing Daily Express, referring to issues such as whether the government was right to enter the war given that "there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, let alone anything to suggest Saddam Hussein could have launched a deadly attack in just 45 minutes, or even 45 days."
In a controversial report last May, BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan claimed the government had "sexed up" a September 2002 dossier on Iraq by claiming that Baghdad could deploy chemical weapons within 45 minutes.
In a striking front-page article, with a white space left where normally a photograph would appear, the Indepenedent asked Thursday if the Hutton report was an "establishment whitewash".
The paper called Hutton's conclusions "curiously unbalanced", and said they had strengthened the case for an "independent inquiry into the intelligence failures that took this country to an unjustifiable war."
The leftwing Guardian said that Gilligan "got more right than he got wrong" in his reporting, adding that the BBC should now ensure "there is no collective failure of nerve in the corporation".
"BBC jouralists must go on probing, must go on asking awkward questions -- and must go on causing trouble," the Guardian urged.
It added that Hutton's report had a "certain naivety of tone and approach".
The government may have been cleared over Kelly's death, "but that does not mean it was honest about Iraq. It was entitled to Hutton's narrow vindication, but it still has a lot to prove."
Like much of the press, the Financial Times said the BBC had been plunged into the most serious crisis of its 80-year history by a report from Hutton that took the political world by surprise in its sweeping vindication of the government.
The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Sun, all rightwing papers, called for BBC director general Greg Dyke to follow in the footsteps of chairman Gavyn Davies and resign.
Many dailies agreed that Hutton had exposed serious failings within the BBC, with the Sun saying he had put the spotlight on the broadcaster's "culture of sloppiness, incompetence and arrogance".
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