Timeline: the Gilligan affair

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Friday, July 18, 2003 at 11:02AM :

In Reply to: transcript of Gilligan report posted by Sadie from ? ( on Friday, July 18, 2003 at 11:01AM :

Timeline: the Gilligan affair

MediaGuardian.co.uk sets out who said what, to whom and when in the continuing war of words between the government and the BBC.

Friday July 18, 2003

May 29
What the Gilligan BBC report said
In a report on Radio 4's Today programme, the BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan quotes an unnamed source alleging Tony Blair's communications director, Alastair Campbell, had wanted the government's dossier on Iraq "sexed up" with a reference to Saddam Hussein's ability to launch a biological or chemical attack within 45 minutes.

Read the full transcript of Gilligan's report

June 1
What Andrew Gilligan said in the Mail on Sunday
Gilligan repeats the allegations in his column in the Mail on Sunday, giving more details of the secret meeting at a central London hotel with his source.

"We started off by moaning about the railways. Only after about half an hour did the story emerge that would dominate the headlines for 48 hours, ruin Tony Blair's Basra awayday and work the prime minister into a state of controlled fury," he wrote.

Gilligan said his source "knew, better than anyone," that evidence of a weapons of mass destruction programme in Iraq "didn't amount to the 'imminent threat' touted by ministers".

He described the source as "gently despairing" about the way Downing Street had exaggerated the case for war. And he quoted him saying that while conventional missiles could be launched in 45 minutes, there was no evidence for the government's claim that this applied to weapons of mass destruction. "I asked him how this transformation happened. The answer was a single word. 'Campbell.' What? Campbell made it up? 'No, it was real information. But it was included against our wishes because it wasn't reliable.'"

Gilligan went on to accuse the prime minister and his staff of having "spent the past few days denying claims that no one has ever actually made - that material in the dossier was invented".

But he says they have failed to deny several of the claims the BBC's source had made, including the allegation that the dossier was rewritten the week before publication and that the line about the 45-minute deployment of weapons was inserted at a late stage.

June 2
What BBC's Newsnight reported
The Newsnight science correspondent Susan Watts reports on a conversation she has had with "a senior official intimately involved with the process of pulling together the September dossier". The source claimed the intelligence services came under heavy political pressure over the evidence that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction could be ready for use within 45 minutes.

June 3
The government's reaction
Dr John Reid, then the leader of the house, claims "rogue elements" in the security services were responsible for spreading falsehoods about alleged attempts by Downing Street to harden intelligence service reports, and so exaggerate the scale of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

June 6
What No 10 says
Tony Blair's official spokesman uses his daily briefing to highlight what he claims are a series of inaccuracies in Gilligan's reports.

June 8
Gilligan in the Mail on Sunday again
Gilligan once again uses his Mail on Sunday column to detail the unfolding row with the government, describing the day "Hurricane Alastair and tropical storm Tony blew into my life". He accuses Downing Street of briefing against him, and describes how Dr Reid "went into close air combat with my colleague John Humphrys to justify his conspiracy theory".

June 19
What Gilligan tells the Foreign Affairs select committee
Gilligan gives his evidence to the Commons foreign affairs select committee investigating the decision to go to war with Iraq. In it, he describes his source as "one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the dossier".

"I can tell you that he is a source of long standing, well known to me, closely connected with the question of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, easily sufficiently senior and credible to be worth reporting," he adds.

June 25
What Alastair Campbell said
Relations between the BBC and the government hit a new low when Mr Campbell speaks out publicly against Gilligan for the first time, effectively accusing the reporter of broadcasting "lies".

During a three hour televised grilling by the Commons foreign affairs select committee, Mr Campbell says:

"The allegation made by the BBC defence correspondent, repeated in large parts of the media here and other parts of the world, is that the prime minister put to the country and to parliament a false basis for putting at risk the lives of British servicemen.

"That is an accusation against the prime minister, the foreign secretary, the cabinet, the intelligence agencies, against me and the people who work for me. That is why I take it so seriously."

"I know we are right in relation to that 45-minute point. It is completely and totally untrue. It is - I don't use this word lightly - it is actually a lie. I simply say, in relation to the BBC story, it is a lie ... that is continually repeated, and until we get an apology for it I will keep making sure that parliament and people like yourselves know that it was a lie."

The BBC hits back, saying it stands by Gilligan and his "senior and credible" intelligence source. "We do not feel the BBC has anything to apologise for," it says in a statement.

June 26
What Alastair Campbell demanded from the BBC
Mr Campbell writes to the BBC demanding answers to 12 questions on the Gilligan affair by the end of the day. Richard Sambrook, the BBC's news director, responds with a statement saying: "We stand by our entire story. In my experience, this is an unprecedented level of pressure on the BBC from Downing Street. The BBC will respond properly to these matters, but not to a deadline dictated by Mr Campbell."

Read Richard Sambrook's statement

July 6
BBC governors go on the offensive
The BBC board of governors meets to discuss the growing row between the corporation and the government. At the end of the meeting it issues a statement defending Gilligan's report and calling on Mr Campbell to withdraw allegations of bias against the BBC and its journalists.

"The board considers that the Today programme properly followed the BBC's producers' guidelines in its handling of the Andrew Gilligan report about the September intelligence dossier, which was broadcast on 29 May. Although the guidelines say that the BBC should be reluctant to broadcast stories based on a single source, and warn about the dangers of using anonymous sources, they clearly allow for this to be done in exceptional circumstances. Stories based on senior intelligence sources are a case in point," it said.

"We note that an entirely separate story was broadcast by an unconnected BBC journalist on Newsnight on 2 June. This story reported very similar allegations to those reported by Andrew Gilligan on the Today programme, but the story has not been singled out for similar criticism by government spokesmen."

Governors back BBC in row over Iraq dossier

Full text of BBC governors' statement

July 8
Greg Dyke, BBC director general wades in
At 10.15am: Greg Dyke speaks for the first time on the issue. He says the BBC will not be apologising and urges Alastair Campbell to bury the hatchet. He says the two sides will have "to agree to disagree". The BBC believes everyone will move on.

Dyke urges Campbell to bury the hatchet

The MoD "mole" At 5.55pm: The government reveals a staff member at the Ministry of Defence has come forward to admit he met Andrew Gilligan at a central London hotel before the war. The MoD does not know if this is Mr Gilligan's source, but says that it if is, then Gilligan has exaggerated the meeting's content.

"The individual is an expert on WMD who has advised ministers on WMD and whose contribution to the dossier of September 2002 was to contribute towards drafts of historical accounts of UN inspections. He is not 'one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the dossier'. He is not a member of the intelligence services or the defence intelligence staff," said the MoD.

"He says that when Mr Gilligan asked about the role of Alastair Campbell with regard to the 45 minute issue, he made no comment and explained that he was not involved in the process of drawing up the intelligence parts of the dossier.

"He says he made no other comment about Mr Campbell. When Mr Gilligan asked him why the 45 minute point was in the dossier, he says he commented that it was 'probably for impact'. He says he did not see the 45 minute intelligence report on which it was based. He has said that, as an expert in the field, he believes Saddam Hussein possessed WMD,"it added

Read the MoD's full statement

How the BBC responded
"The description of the individual contained in the statement does not match Mr Gilligan's source in some important ways. Mr Gilligan's source does not work in the Ministry of Defence and he has known the source for a number of years, not months."

Read the BBC's full statement

July 9
Defence minister gets his hands dirty
Defence secretary Geoff Hoon names Dr David Kelly, a Ministry of Defence microbiologist and weapons consultant, in a letter to the BBC, asking the corporation to confirm or deny whether he is the source of Gilligan's story. The BBC dismisses the demand and says the situation is descending into farce. Although Dr Kelly's name has not been made public, in the course of the day lobby journalists become aware of his identity, and Downing Street confirms his name to the Times political reporting team. By 11.40pm, Dr Kelly has been named on the Press Association's newswire.

Read the BBC's response to Hoon

July 15
MPs: Kelly is not the source
Dr Kelly gives evidence to the foreign affairs select committee in which he denies that he was the main source for claims that Campbell "sexed up" the September dossier. MPs on the committee back him in a statement saying they do not believe he is the sole source and accuse the government of treating him as a "fall guy".

Gerald Kaufman MP, the chair of the culture and media select committee, says Gilligan should be given a choice between writing for newspapers and magazines, including his columns for the Mail on Sunday and the Spectator, and continuing to work for the BBC. Gilligan stoked the row between the corporation and government by elaborating in his Mail on Sunday column on his report for the Today programme that Campbell intervened in the preparation of the September dossier to exaggerate the Iraqi weapons threat.

July 16
Blair demands naming of source
Tony Blair again challenges the BBC to unmask the source of Gilligan's story, after Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Blair and Campbell of creating a "culture of deceit" with their handling of issues such as the Iraq dossier row.

July 17
Dr Kelly disappears
Dr Kelly tells his wife he is going out for a walk at 3pm. Although he is accustomed to walk for several hours at a time on the footpaths around his home in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, he is not dressed appropriately for the wet weather, dressed in just his shirt sleeves without a coat. When he fails to return home by 11.45pm his family contact the police.

Gilligan questioned again
MPs on the foreign affairs select committee accuse Gilligan of being an "unsatisfactory witness" who has changed his story that Campbell "sexed up" the September dossier.

July 18
Dr Kelly is reported missing by Thames Valley Police and a major search operation is launched in the vicinity of his home in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The police say they are "very concerned for his wellbeing". Donald Anderson, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, says he is "shocked" by the development.

-- Sadie
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