Magazine article The Spectator

Whatever Hutton Reports, There Is No Case for Getting Rid of Andrew Gilligan

Magazine article The Spectator

Whatever Hutton Reports, There Is No Case for Getting Rid of Andrew Gilligan

Article excerpt

Within the next few weeks Lord Hutton will publish his inquiry. None of us can know where, if anywhere, his axe will fall. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, may be feeling his neck a little anxiously. So too will Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter whose story about Downing Street 'sexing up' the September 2002 dossier lies at the very centre of this drama.

It is certain that the Hutton report will be at least mildly critical of Mr Gilligan. He has himself admitted, or almost admitted, to having made some errors. He was unwise to suggest on the Today programme on 29 May - since he had no proof - that the government inserted into the September dossier its claim about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction being deployable in 45 minutes while knowing it to be false. He should not have sent an email to some members of the Commons foreign affairs committee suggesting that the source of his BBC colleague, Susan Watts, was Dr David Kelly. It would have been better if he had named Alastair Campbell as the 'sexer-up' of the dossier on the Today programme rather than in the pages of the Mail on Sunday.

But these, as I and others have argued in these pages, are relatively minor offences if you accept Mr Gilligan's central thesis. This is that the government considerably exaggerated in its September dossier the threat posed by Iraq. During the inquiry, support for the Gilligan view was expressed by Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, and more particularly by Dr Brian Jones, a recently retired senior analyst in the defence intelligence department. Dr Jones told the inquiry that the government had 'over-egged' the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and prevented experts on chemical and biological weapons from expressing widespread disquiet about the language and assumptions of the September dossier.

My hope is that Lord Hutton will accept that Mr Gilligan was broadly correct. But even if he does, there will undoubtedly be calls for the BBC to sack him. The pro-war newspapers, and the Sun in particular, will seize on the report's every criticism of Mr Gilligan. For them he is no more than a political football to be kicked around. If you were in favour of the war, you must be against Mr Gilligan. This is false antithesis. It is possible to believe that the war against Iraq was justifiable, and yet to conclude that No. 10 did greatly exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

If you doubt that Tony Blair is himself capable of bending the truth about weapons of mass destruction, look at what he said in his pre-Christmas message to British servicemen. According to Mr Blair, the Iraq Survey Group, which has been searching for these weapons, has unearthed 'massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists and plans to develop long-range ballistic missiles'. This statement was repudiated by Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, in a recent interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, who did not initially tell him that it was Mr Blair who had made it. Mr Bremer said: 'I don't know where those words come from, but that is not what David Kay [chief weapons inspector in the Iraq Survey Group] has said. I have read his reports so I don't know who said that. It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me'. Only then did Mr Dimbleby tell Mr Bremer that it was Mr Blair who had made the statement he had debunked. Mr Bremer beat a hasty and embarrassed partial retreat which could not conceal the fact that Mr Blair is still in the business of 'sexing up' the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. …

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