Blair 'intervened in hardening up dossier on Iraq'

By James Morrison and Jo Dillon

10 August 2003

The Independent

A senior BBC journalist was told that Tony Blair was "involved" in sending the September Iraq dossier back to the Joint Intelligence Committee to harden up its content. The source of the report is understood not to have been the late David Kelly.

The likely existence of an additional intelligence source for the BBC's reports on the disputed Iraq weapons dossier comes as the Government fights a rearguard action to regain public trust on the eve of the Hutton inquiry.

Andrew Gilligan, the defence correspondent whose 29 May report on Radio 4's Today programme sparked the BBC's ongoing row with Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's director of communications, is to give evidence on Tuesday. He will be followed by Susan Watts, the BBC's science correspondent who has kept a tape recording of her conversation with Dr Kelly, in which he is said to mention Mr Campbell, and special correspondent Gavin Hewitt.

News that a fourth BBC journalist, the diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason, had direct contact with a source who underlined the intelligence community's concerns about the Government's use of information on Iraq's alleged WMD programme in the run-up to war strengthens the corporation's hand.

In mentioning Mr Blair by name, it goes further than Mr Gilligan's report - a fact that will not be lost on Lord Hutton. Mr Mason first relayed details of his source's claims in a little-noticed BBC World Service report on 5 June. In it, he said: "A well-informed source close to British intelligence told me that Downing Street had sent drafts of the document back to the Intelligence Committee six or eight times with a request that the language should be strengthened. Mr Blair himself was said to have been involved in this process at one point."

But the report was eclipsed by the Government's rebuttal of Mr Gilligan's report and a similar story in The Indepen-dent on Sunday - also arising from conversations with a source other than Dr Kelly.

Contacted by the IoS yesterday, Mr Mason declined to identify his source.

The existence of Mr Mason's source suggests the report by Andrew Gilligan on the Today programme re-flected wider concerns among intelligence experts about the pre-war use of information on the Iraqi weapons programme.

* Writing in today's IoS, the former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle urges the Government to end the "culture of spin" he claims is undermining the Labour Party.