London, June 29 (Reuters): Britain’s government and the state broadcaster traded fresh blows today in a bitter row over claims that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons to justify war.
The failure so far to discover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — Blair’s main justification for war — has undermined his credibility.
In a MORI poll for the tabloid News of the World today, about 58 per cent of those questioned said that Blair was not trustworthy.
The row blew up after the BBC, citing an intelligence source, said Alastair Campbell, Blair’s communications chief, had meddled with a September dossier on Iraq’s weapons.
The BBC’s source said Campbell had played up a claim that Iraq’s weapons could be deployed in 45 minutes into the September weapons dossier, against the wishes of the intelligence services, to make it “sexier”.
“They said the Prime Minister and his staff put information into the public domain they knew to be wrong, they did it against the wishes of the intelligence services in this country and they did it to dupe the people of this country,” health secretary John Reid told BBC TV. “This is completely untrue.”
Campbell — a tough former tabloid journalist — has accused the BBC of lying and demanded an apology. But the world-famous broadcaster has refused to back down.
Now the journalist behind the report, Andrew Gilligan, has threatened to take legal action against junior government minister Phil Woolas, who publicly accused him of misleading parliament when he testified to its Foreign Affairs Committee.
“I think it’s incredible that the BBC should behave as if they were an Opposition party,” Woolas told Sky Television.