Judge Summons Blair, BBC Reporter on Suicide

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Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A judge yesterday summoned a BBC reporter and Prime Minister Tony Blair to testify on the suicide of an official who was the source for a BBC report on "sexed-up" intelligence about Iraq.

BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan, BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies and Mr. Blair will be among those to appear before an official inquiry headed by Lord Brian Hutton.

Judge Hutton, a senior jurist, is probing the July 17 suicide of government scientist and arms expert David Kelly. He was found with his wrist slit after he was identified as the primary source for reports by Mr. Gilligan and other BBC reporters that the Blair government overstated the military threat posed by Saddam Hussein to justify war against Iraq.

The resulting scandal has transfixed Britain and damaged the public image of both Mr. Blair's government and the venerable British Broadcasting Corp., a publicly funded news and entertainment network.

BBC officials have defended their coverage of Iraq and the weapons dispute.

Mr. Kelly conceded he spoke to Mr. Gilligan and other BBC reporters about his doubts, but in a letter released by Judge Hutton yesterday, the arms expert provided fresh ammunition to critics of the BBC's reporting.

In a June 30 letter to his Ministry of Defense superiors, Mr. Kelly said he did not recognize his views in Mr. Gilligan's subsequent highly critical reports.

He wrote: "I can only conclude one of three things - Gilligan has considerably embellished my meeting with him; he has met with other individuals who truly were intimately associated with the dossier; or he has assembled comments from both multiple, direct and indirect sources for his articles."

Mr. Blair and Alistair Campbell, his chief communications aide, have furiously denied the BBC reports, sparking an extended and bitter fight between the government and the 81-year-old broadcast service.

A BBC spokesman said yesterday the network "welcomes the clarification of the scope of the inquiry and will continue to offer all the assistance that we can."

While Mr. Blair's political woes have been well-chronicled, the role of the BBC in the Kelly affair has inspired an equally heated debate in media-mad Britain, with the government and conservative critics of the BBC saying the incident reflects a much larger "soft-socialist" bias.

"The BBC is pathologically hostile to the government and official opposition, most British institutions, American policy in almost every field, Israel, moderation in Ireland, all Western religions, and most manifestations of the free-market economy," charged Conrad Black, the Canadian-born media magnate who owns the London Daily Telegraph.

"It benefits from an iniquitous tax, abuses its position commercially, has shredded its formal obligation to separate comment from reporting in all political areas, ... and is poisoning the well of public policy debate in the United Kingdom," he wrote. …