Gilligan quits - to cash in on infamy

ANDREW Gilligan, the reporter whose story about the "sexed up" Iraq dossier set off the chain of events leading to the death of Dr David Kelly and the ensuing Hutton Inquiry, last night resigned from the BBC.

Mr Gilligan conceded he had made mistakes in his story, which claimed the government knowingly exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

But he also launched a broadside against the "unbalanced judgments" of Lord Hutton and said the BBC had been the "victim of a grave injustice".

Mr Gilligan is expected to start a lucrative new media career and has been linked to the Spectator, the Mail on Sunday and the Guardian. It is also understood that he is negotiating a deal to write a book.

His departure from the BBC, seen by many as inevitable following the damning report, comes at the end of the most tumultuous week in the corporation’s history.

Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, and Greg Dyke, its director general, have already quit, after apologising to Downing Street for claiming the government over-egged the dangers posed by Iraqi weapons to make a stronger case for war.

The resignation of Gilligan - whose report last May said the government knew the dossier’s claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was untrue - puts pressure on Kevin Marsh, the editor of the Today programme at the time of the broadcast.

Lord Hutton concluded that the report was wrong and that the government believed the intelligence behind the 45- minutes claim to be correct.

The Gilligan story set off a hunt for the mole who had leaked the story to him, and sparked a long and bitter row between the BBC and the government.

Last July, shortly after Dr Kelly, a weapons expert, was identified as the source of the report, he committed suicide.

Mr Gilligan has been widely described as a maverick reporter who should have been subject to closer editorial control, a point made forcibly by Lord Hutton.

Donald Anderson, the chairman of the select committee which questioned Dr Kelly just days before his suicide, last night described the report as "slapdash" and "sloppy". He added: "As a result of what he [Gilligan] did, we would not have had all the trauma we have had."

The BBC insisted Gilligan had not been paid off and had simply resigned. He announced his resignation in a statement to the Press Association, with the BBC apparently taken by surprise.

His statement said: "I and everyone else involved here have for five months admitted the mistakes we made. We deserved criticism. Some of my story was wrong, as I admitted at the inquiry, and I again apologise for it. My departure is at my own initiative. But the BBC collectively has been the victim of a grave injustice.

"If Lord Hutton had fairly considered the evidence he heard, he would have concluded that most of my story was right. The government did sex up the dossier, transforming possibilities and probabilities into certainties, removing vital caveats; the 45-minute claim was the ‘classic example’ of this; and many in the intelligence services, including the leading expert in WMD, were unhappy about it."

It continued: "I am comforted by the fact that public opinion appears to disagree with Lord Hutton and I hope this will strengthen the resolve of the BBC. The report has imposed on the BBC a punishment far out of proportion to its or my mistakes, which were honest ones.

"It is hard to believe now that this all stems from two flawed sentences in one unscripted early-morning interview, never repeated, when I said that the government ‘probably knew’ that the 45-minutes figure was wrong."

He added he had "repeatedly said that I did not accuse the government of fabrication, but of exaggeration. I stand by that charge, and it will not go away".

The statement concluded: "I love the BBC and I am resigning because I want to protect it. I accept my part in the crisis which has befallen the organisation. But a greater part has been played by the unbalanced judgments of Lord Hutton."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman, said: "Andrew Gilligan’s decision to resign is in his best interests and that of the BBC. The truth is he found a good story but made a crucial mistake. Without him, we would not have known of the reservations which some in the intelligence community had about the dossier." No10 said it had no comment.

Iraq shortage

A SHORTAGE of body bags during the war in Iraq meant that one senior medical officer had to use his own sleeping bag to wrap up the body of a British soldier killed during the fighting.

The officer said that a request had been made for body bags but that none had arrived in time for the start of the war. After the soldier had been pronounced dead, the officer said he took his own sleeping bag from his vehicle and placed the man’s body inside before he was moved back from the front lines to a field hospital.

The shortage of body bags is the latest in a long list of equipment shortages to emerge from the war in Iraq.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, has already faced demands for his resignation over the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts, who was killed after handing over his body armour because of shortages. It was widely

accepted that Mr Hoon had been allowed to ride out the storm over equipment shortages because he would be required to act as the fall guy for the government after the publication of the Hutton Report. In the event, the report failed to pin any substantial blame on the Ministry of Defence for the death of the weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, and Mr Hoon survived.

The MoD has already admitted that political considerations meant that large quantities of equipment were not ordered until shortly before the start of the war, but the latest example of equipment shortages brought renewed calls for Mr Hoon’s resignation.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s defence spokesman at Westminster, said:

"If we are to ask people to pay the ultimate price, the least that can be done is for units to be issued with the appropriate equipment to treat casualties with the dignity that they deserve."

The dead soldier’s regiment has asked for his identity to be kept confidential to prevent further distress to his family.

The MoD said that the failure was probably down to problems with tracking equipment once it had arrived in the theatre of operations.

"Sufficient stocks would have been available. If there were local problems it is a reflection of the fact that there were problems in asset tracking in theatre," he said.

The MoD has used the same excuse to explain the shortage of body armour experienced by many front-line units, insisting that while enough equipment had been sent to the Gulf, some of it failed to be passed on to its intended destination.

Soldiers who served in the war have highlighted a string of equipment shortages, including nuclear, biological and chemical protection suits and detection equipment, desert boots, desert clothing, ammunition, machine guns and grenade launchers.

Back to the top of the page