- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

LONDON — The British Broadcasting Corp., locked in a fight over its reports questioning a government dossier dealing with Iraqi weaponry, has struck back with a claim that it has a recorded interview that can help prove its case.

BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas reported yesterday that the tape is a recording in which scientist David Kelly expressed concern that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government was “obsessed with finding intelligence on immediate Iraqi threats” posed by weapons of mass destruction.

London’s Guardian newspaper said the BBC believes that the interview that its science editor, Susan Watts, taped with Mr. Kelly could be the “smoking gun” that will exonerate another of the network’s journalists, Andrew Gilligan.

Mr. Gilligan’s own report earlier suggested that Mr. Blair’s office “sexed up” the dossier on Iraq’s banned weapons.

It was Mr. Gilligan’s report, a few days before Miss Watts’ “Newsnight” broadcasts of her own interview with Mr. Kelly, that triggered a furious denial from Mr. Blair’s Downing Street office followed by an inquiry by Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee into the charges and countercharges over the Iraqi weapons dossier.

Cringing and nearly whispering his replies, Mr. Kelly faced a barrage of 179 questions from the lawmakers last week. Days later, the body of the 59-year-old, mild-mannered microbiologist was found in a woodland about five miles from his home, where he had slit his left wrist and bled to death.

Critics led by Mr. Blair’s chief aide, Alastair Campbell, lashed into the BBC for exaggerating its own report, in which Mr. Gilligan quoted “a British official who was involved in the preparation of the dossier.”

After the scientist’s suicide, the BBC identified Mr. Kelly as Mr. Gilligan’s “British official” source, prompting criticism of the network for betraying a confidential source.

It also opened a torrent of accusations, primarily from Conservatives, of bias against the Iraqi war by a network that is regarded by many as one of the world’s leading, and most reputable, news organizations.

The Sun newspaper, a member of publisher Rupert Murdoch’s chain, ran a story headlined “You Rat,” a reference to Mr. Gilligan’s disclosure of his source.

Inside it carried a report titled “Heads must roll at the BBC” and an editorial that asked, “How can we ever trust the BBC again?”

The Times, another London newspaper published by Mr. Murdoch’s stable, suggested that the BBC was “in crisis.”

Still other critics suggested that by disclosing Mr. Kelly’s name — even though it had already been leaked by the Ministry of Defense — the BBC had hounded the scientist literally to death.

But the Watts interview with Mr. Kelly, which covered much the same ground as Mr. Gilligan’s, appeared to have given the BBC’s case a major boost.

The tape is expected to form a keystone to the broadcasting organization’s case when it goes before an inquiry, headed by Lord Brian Hutton, that is investigating the Kelly affair.

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