- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair said he has no intention of resigning over the suicide of scientist David Kelly, identified yesterday by the British Broadcasting Corp. as its main source in accusing the government of hyping weapons evidence to justify war in Iraq.

Mr. Blair — dogged on his trip through East Asia by angry charges about the death of Mr. Kelly, a Ministry of Defense adviser — was responding to some critics at home who have demanded his resignation. He also said he would take full responsibility if an inquiry finds that the government contributed to Mr. Kelly’s death.

He welcomed the BBC’s announcement, which temporarily shifted the angriest public criticism from his administration to the broadcaster, whose credibility came under attack.

“In the end, the government is my responsibility, and I can assure you the judge [leading the inquiry] will be able to get to what facts, what people, what papers he wants,” Mr. Blair told Sky News.

The prime minister also said at a news conference with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in Seoul that he would testify in the investigation.

Mr. Kelly’s suicide has visibly shaken Mr. Blair, who learned of it at the start of an exhausting Asian trip after flying first across the Atlantic to address the U.S. Congress.

He appeared tense and preoccupied during appearances Saturday in Japan, and his characteristic wide grins were replaced by a withering glare when a reporter shouted: “Have you got blood on your hands, Prime Minister?”

Mr. Blair’s government and the state-funded BBC have been embroiled in a bitter, drawn-out battle about a May 29 radio report by journalist Andrew Gilligan.

The report quoted an anonymous source as saying officials had “sexed up” evidence about Iraqi weapons to justify war and insisted on publishing an assertion that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could deploy some chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, despite intelligence experts’ doubts.

After Mr. Kelly — a quiet, bearded microbiologist with a sterling international reputation — told his Ministry of Defense bosses he’d spoken to Mr. Gilligan, the ministry identified him as a possible source for the report.

Mr. Kelly was questioned by a parliamentary committee, and days later, on Friday, police found his body in the woods near his Oxfordshire home. They said he bled to death from a slashed left wrist.

“We can confirm that Dr. Kelly was the principal source” for Mr. Gilligan’s story, the BBC said in a statement yesterday. “The BBC believes we accurately interpreted and reported the factual information obtained by us during interviews with Dr. Kelly.”

The statement said Mr. Kelly had also been the source for a piece by reporter Susan Watts on its “Newsnight” analysis program.

Politicians across the ideological spectrum accused the BBC of inaccurately reporting Mr. Kelly’s comments, citing his parliamentary testimony that although he spoke privately to Mr. Gilligan, he did not recognize the journalist’s most damaging assertions as his own.

“I believe I am not the main source,” Mr. Kelly told the committee. “From the conversation I had, I don’t see how [Mr. Gilligan] could make the authoritative statement he was making.”

Assuming that the BBC had no secondary source who made the report’s central assertions, the critics accused Mr. Gilligan of twisting Mr. Kelly’s words.

Mr. Gilligan denied that yesterday evening.

“I want to make it clear that I did not misquote or misrepresent Dr. David Kelly,” Mr. Gilligan said in a statement pointing out that Mr. Kelly had also been a source for the “Newsnight” report.

“Entirely separately from my meeting with him, Dr. Kelly expressed very similar concerns about Downing Street’s interpretation of intelligence in the dossier and the unreliability of the 45-minute point to ‘Newsnight,’” his statement said.

Conservative Party lawmaker Robert Jackson, who represents Mr. Kelly’s home district, told the BBC earlier in the day that he believed Mr. Gilligan “dressed up what was said to him by Dr. Kelly.”

“I believe that the BBC has knowingly, for some weeks, been standing by a story that it knew was wrong,” he said.

Tory legislator Michael Fabricant defended the broadcaster, saying it had been right not to reveal Mr. Kelly’s name until now. He said there is no evidence to suggest the BBC had misrepresented the scientist’s comments.

Throughout the dispute, the BBC refused to say whether Mr. Kelly, who was a top U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq in the 1990s, had been its source.

“Over the past few weeks we have been at pains to protect Dr. Kelly being identified as the source of these reports,” the BBC statement said. “We clearly owed him a duty of confidentiality. Following his death, we now believe, in order to end the continuing speculation, it is important to release this information as swiftly as possible.”

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