| Tony Blair
London, July 6: Tony Blair has demanded that the BBC retract its claim that Downing Street “sexed up” material provided by the intelligence services for a dossier presented to parliament on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in an effort to persuade public opinion to support the war.
He said the charge was “as serious an attack on my integrity as there could possibly be”. The Prime Minister dramatically entered the fray last night just as the battle between the corporation and the government was coming to a head, with the publication tomorrow of a Commons report into claims that Downing Street exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
In a sign that Number 10 is confident of being cleared, Blair appeared to stake his reputation on the issue in a newspaper interview. “The idea that I or anyone else in my position frankly would start altering intelligence evidence or saying to the intelligence services, ‘I am going to insert this’, is absurd,” he told The Observer. “There couldn’t be a more serious charge: that I ordered our troops into conflict on the basis of intelligence evidence that I falsified. You could not make a more serious charge against a Prime Minister. The charge happens to be wrong. I think they (the BBC) should accept it.”
Greg Dyke, the director-general of the BBC, was prepared to take an equally defiant tone, telling the corporation’s governors that they cannot afford to back down in what has become a “do or die” battle.
Dyke told an emergency meeting of the governors, who are meant to be entirely independent, that they must stand behind the original news story, broadcast in May, even if the MPs now investigating the allegations judge it was incorrect.
Dyke is expected to give the 11 governors new information that he insists substantiates the original claims made by Andrew Gilligan, the defence correspondent on Radio 4’s Today programme.
Dyke also provided them with copies of Gilligan’s broadcast and the open letter sent to Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s communications director, in an effort to prove Campbell’s complaints bear no relation to the original news item.
The director-general is expected to urge the governors to issue a statement unambiguously endorsing the BBC’s story tomorrow — the day that the Commons foreign affairs select committee publishes its findings into the allegations.
The report by the Labour-dominated committee is widely
expected to clear Mr Campbell of the central
allegation that he "doctored" the dossier to highlight
a warning that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical or
biological weapons within 45 minutes.
The BBC, however, is hoping that some members of the
committee may be publicly critical of Mr Campbell, or
even refuse to sign up to the final conclusions. One
BBC executive claimed yesterday that committee members
were still split on the report's findings. The
conclusion that there was no evidence to suggest Mr
Campbell had altered the dossier contrary to the
wishes of the intelligence services was passed only
with the casting vote of the chairman.
A senior BBC official said: "Greg will tell the
governors in no uncertain terms that if there is any
attempt to retreat from the story or to apologise for
what has been said it will be the end of BBC News.
It's do or die.
"Greg will tell them it's not just about standing by
Andrew Gilligan. It's about standing by the original
source who is both well placed and well informed. He
will also point out that Mr Campbell's complaints are
about issues which were not even included in the
The Telegraph understands that Mr Dyke's warning will
be delivered with the blessing of Mr Davies, who is a
close friend of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor. It is
believed that the chairman has already briefed his
fellow governors and warned them of the need to stand
The BBC governors include Dame Pauline Neville-Jones,
a former diplomat and deputy secretary of the Cabinet
Office who has already expressed publicly her concern
at the use of intelligence information by the
Government during the war. Other governors include
Baroness Hogg, the head of John Major's policy unit
between 1990 and 1995, and Sir Robert Smith, the
vice-chairman of Deutsche Asset Management.
One governor told The Telegraph last night that it was
likely that they would back Gilligan: "I think that
Alastair Campbell has been involved in a highly
successful diversionary tactic. It seems pretty clear
to me that the September document [the first Iraq
dossier] was a pretty thin affair and was scraped
together from a number of sources."
Friends of Richard Sambrook, the head of BBC News, say
that he will apologise for the handling of the story
only if the Commons report provides an outright
condemnation of the story.