BBC first revealed the ’45 minutes to doom’ dossier was ‘sexed up’ and that led to whole flurry of investigation into the truth. Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell was now in the hot seat and allegations raged that he doctored the dossier. Dr David Kelly, a renowned chemical weapons expert, who was the source of BBC story, committed suicide as his name was made public.
The infamous “45 minutes to doom” dossier that Tony Blair used to take his country to invade Iraq also caused huge tumult in the UK when BBC first found out that the dossier was “sexed up” at the directive of Downing Street to make false claims of Saddam having WMD.
It brought complete disgrace to the Labour government and prime minister Tony Blair, who had to step down from office and a deep division in the party, a whole range of new thinking about the correctness of the invasion and ultimately the formation of an inquiry commission headed by Sir John Chilcot that laid bare in its more than 6,000-page report how the British government had based its attack on Iraq on falsehood.
As the BBC first broke the story that the dossier had been doctored, the outcry that followed led to the suicide of the source of the BBC story, Dr David Kelly, a renowned chemicals weapons expert and Nobel Peace prize nominee, and the resignation of BBC’s chairman, the director general and the reporter who had unveiled the truth.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Barely a month into the fall of Saddam, BBC Radio 4 in its Today programme on May 29, 2003 said top officials involved in preparing the dossier had revealed the government had inserted the claim that WMD could be launched within 45 minutes.
Immediately after this stunning allegation, a bitter row started between BBC and Downing Street which contradicted the claim within one and a half hour of the broadcast.
Andrew Gilligan, reporter of the programme, then repeated the allegation in his column in the Mail on June 1. He wrote that his source had said while conventional missiles could be launched in 45 minutes, there was no evidence that this applied to WMD. His source further said this doctoring was done by Alastair Campbell, Blair’s communication director.
The next day, BBC’s Newsnight programme made similar allegations that the intelligence services were under heavy political pressure over the evidence that WMD could be launched within 45 minutes.
BBC reporter Gilligan was summoned by the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee to question him about his claims. Gilligan stood by his report and said his source of information was credible and it was in fact one of the senior officials who drew up the dossier.
A week later, Alastair Campbell was also summoned by the select committee where a furious Campbell accused BBC of lies and falsehood.
“The allegation made by the BBC defence correspondent … is that the prime minister put to the country and to parliament a false basis for putting at risk the lives of British servicemen,” Campbell told the committee. He also said the 45-minute claim is correct and demanded apology from BBC.
BBC hit back the same day, saying that it stood by Gilligan and his source and refused to apologise.
Amid the growing row, David Kelley confessed to the ministry of defence on June 30 that he had spoken to Gilligan but denied most of the remarks in report as his own. Campbell, a seasoned spin doctor, wanted to leak Kelly’s confession to the media in order to discredit BBC.
As the row grew, the BBC board of directors met and issued a statement defending Gilligan and asked Campbell to withdraw his allegation of bias against the corporation.
Two days later on July 8, the UK government revealed that one of its experts on WMD had talked to Gilligan at a central London hotel before the war. It said if this expert was Gilligan’s source, then he had exaggerated the meeting content.
The next day, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon sent Dr David Kelly’s name to BBC asking the corporation to confirm if he was Gilligan’s source, a request BBC turned down. But by this time the media became aware of the identity of the BBC source and by afternoon Downing Street confirmed Kelly’s name.
As pressure mounted on Dr Kelly, he told the foreign affairs select committee on July 15 that he was not the main source of BBC’s claim of the “sexed up” dossier.
Now all hell broke loose as opposition Tory MPs came down heavily on the government accusing it of lies and deceit. The Labour government was now in an existential crisis.
HUTTON COMMISSION AND BBC TOP BRASS RESIGNATION
The UK government set up a judicial inquiry by Lord Hutton into the death of Kelly.
Hutton surprisingly gave a wholesome clean cheat to Tony Blair and all his companions. He also cleared the British intelligence of producing any fake WMD evidence.
The Hutton report is today dubbed as an attempt to whitewash the wrongs of the Blair government. Tony Blair, satisfied with Hutton’s findings, went to parliament and said, “The report itself is an extraordinarily through, detailed and clear document. We accept it in full.”
Blair also demanded BBC apology as Hutton said the BBC’s allegation of sexing up the dossier was unfounded and lambasted the organisation’s editorial policy for “defective reporting”.
Following this, BBC Chairman Gavin Davies, director General Greg Dyke and reporter Gilligan resigned.
ANOTHER DOUBT ON THE DOSSIER
Meanwhile, as it became increasingly clear there was no WMD in Iraq, the intelligence on which Iraq invasion began, started being questioned all around.
George Bush set up an Iraq intelligence commission to review any intelligence failure. The next day, Blair also set up a commission on February 3, 2004 led by Lord Robin Butler to review the British intelligence.
Four months later, Butler delivered its report that also cleared the Blair government of any doctoring of document but said the key intelligence used to justify the war was unreliable and that the 45-minute claim should not have been included in the dossier.
The Butler committee drew sharp political criticism as it was not authorized to scrutiny the political decision making process of the Iraq war. Both the conservative party and Liberal Democrats opted out of the committee’s working.