Following the tenth anniversary of weapons expert David Kelly’s death, it was only a matter of time before the Sunday Telegraph, and Andrew “Transcription Error” Gilligan moved to excuse their behaviour in the affair. Mainly, as Gilligan showed in his excuse note yesterday, the modus operandi is to suggest that it didn’t happen, and that if it did, what he did wasn’t really so bad.
Don't stray too far from those courts
And as for the Sunday Telegraph, no mention has been made of their having procured a printout of the contents of Kelly’s phone bill, listing every number that had been called from his house between March 1 and April 23, 2003. The printout included Kelly’s “friends and family” list. We know about this, as Nick Davies mentions it in Flat Earth News (the Sunday Times was also sold the same bill).
Yet the paper remains silent on that matter, and gives Gilligan a platform to go as far as to accuse Kelly of wronging him: “Under great pressure, he blurted an untruth in the glare of the TV lights; an untruth which, on the morning of his death, his bosses told him they would investigate”. Sadly, no man is of perfect courage, and certainly not Andrew Gilligan: he will not say what the alleged “untruth” is.
Much of the rest of the article verges on fantasy: Gilligan’s obsession with Alastair Campbell extends to suggesting that Big Al was somehow able to force the civil service to get Kelly’s name out in the open. Campbell, and anyone not totally denouncing him, are dismissed as liars (Gilligan does love to spray that word around). Tone is also found wanting.
But, among all the fog Gilligan is creating as he seeks to play the victim, he admits to having pulled the crucial whopper: “I added a claim, mistakenly attributing it to David, that the Government probably knew the 45-minute claim was wrong”. Yes, Gilligan comes clean and concedes that he made up the claim that kicked off the row which cost Greg Dyke his job, and ultimately cost Campbell his.
And at no time does Gilligan tell his readers that he had personally spoken to members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, telling them that Kelly was also the source for Newsnight’s Susan Watts, which would inevitably have increased the pressure on Kelly – and potentially dropped him in the mire even further. But he does put the boot in on BBC management.
That may be not unrelated to the Corporation finding that it could get along without Gilligan’s services, a situation that has continued for the past decade. In the meantime, readers are sold the entirely fictitious line that Kelly – who Gilligan likes to call “David” – was some kind of close friend, rather than an occasional source whose trust he abused in order to put one over on the Blair Government.
David Kelly was indeed betrayed. And Andrew Gilligan was a full participant in that.
A little more material for context.
Gilligan's contempt for the FAC is apparent, largely because in their initial report on the decision to go to war in Iraq, published on 7 July, they had not accepted his claims about the involvement of Alistair Campbell in the sexing-up of the dossier:
(though note that the Committee divided on this section of the report and the alternative paragraphs proposed by John Maples were not adopted).
By that time Kelly was known within Whitehall to be the source for Gilligan's claims, and pressure to find, or 'out', the source intensified.
Gilligan would have been livid that his story had been rubbished by MPs, which is presumably why he began to suggest privately that Kelly was the source. He refused to state openly to MPs, even in private session, that Kelly was his main source, even though he knew. This infuriated Members: Gilligan had used parliamentary privilege to make a number of allegations against the Government but was not prepared to substantiate those allegations before the Committee. However he was quite happy to brief certain MPs clandestinely.
Following the official revelation that Kelly was believed to be the source for the claim, he underwent the famous grilling by the FAC. Kelly at this point genuinely believed that he had not been the source for the Gilligan story.
Having already made a finding that Campbell had not been responsible for the 45-minute claim, it was unlikely that the FAC would reverse their view when confronted with Kelly: members were firmly of the view that he had been put up as a distraction.
So when the Committee sought to establish whether Kelly was the main source for Gilligan's claim that Campbell had sexed up the dossier, and Kelly denied it, the Committee was happy enough to take him at his word. Members pronounced themselves satisfied that Kelly was not the source.
But by this time the story was being put about privately by Gilligan that Kelly was indeed his source and the source for the reports from Susan Watts. The fact that MPs had believed Kelly's account must therefore have been exquisitely painful for Kelly, coming as it did on top of a realisation that Gilligan was putting about a different account for his own purposes.
On 17 July the FAC summoned Gilligan in again for a private hearing, to get a straight answer out of him over who was the source for the claim he had made under privilege. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmagenda/ob030717.htm
The ensuing report on the meeting, agreed later that afternoon, was published on 21 July: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmfaff/1044/1044.pdf
Since he knew that Gilligan was briefing about him in private, Kelly undoubtedly suspected that Gilligan was about to name him formally to the FAC. At which point the FAC, with egg on its face, would no doubt have sought to haul Kelly back in to revisit the evidence he had given on 15 July.
In addition, the MOD was also forming the view that Kelly may have been more prominent in informing the Watts and Gilligan stories than he had claimed. A period of intense scrutiny was bound to follow, and any further appearance before an enraged FAC would only be more humiliating.
The FAC meeting to question Gilligan in private began at 2.45 on 17 July 2003. Dr Kelly set off on his final walk at 3.00 that afternoon. Given what he knew by then of Gilligan's modus operandi, what confidence could he have had that Gilligan would not name him? And what would have been the consequences if he did?
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