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Andrew Gilligan

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Andrew Gilligan
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Andrew Gilligan

Andrew Paul Gilligan (born 22 November, 1968, Teddington, Middlesex, England) is a journalist best known for his report, while defence and diplomatic correspondent for BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme, about the British Government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Contents

Early career

Gilligan was educated at Grey Court School, Ham, Richmond and at St. John's College, Cambridge University, where he studied history. A large part of his time in Cambridge was spent on the student newspaper, Varsity, of which he became News Editor.

In 1994, after a summer placement on The Independent, he gave up his studies to work full-time in journalism. He contributed to the Cambridge Evening News as a freelance and later moved to the Sunday Telegraph where he became a specialist reporter on defence. In 1999 he was recruited by The Today Programme editor Rod Liddle as Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent, as part of an attempt by Liddle to sharpen up the programme's investigative journalism.

The Today Programme

On Today, Gilligan broke numerous stories about the British military's shortcomings, particularly in relation to the Kosovo war. He obtained leaked Ministry of Defence reports showing that the Army's rifles and radios had not worked; that only a small fraction of RAF bombs during the campaign had hit their targets; and that a £1 billion upgrade to the RAF's main combat jet had left it unable to drop smart bombs. The Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, denied to Parliament Gilligan's report that British troops were ill-equipped for the war in Iraq and called for a public apology. The story was borne out by a National Audit Office report.

In 2000, Gilligan became the first British journalist to report on the EU's plans for a constitution. The Prime Minister's spokesman, Alastair Campbell, denied any such plans and attacked the journalist as 'Gullible Gilligan'.

In Baghdad

Gilligan first came to prominence during the April 2003 Iraq war, when he was stationed in Baghdad. On the day United States forces claimed to have entered the city centre, Gilligan broadcast on the BBC World Service saying: "I'm in the centre of Baghdad, and I don't see anything... But then the Americans have a history of making these premature announcements." Gilligan was referring to a military communiqué from Qatar that morning saying that the Americans had entered the centre of the city. In fact, it transpired that an American patrol had passed briefly through one of the south-western suburbs, and then exited again.

The previous day Gilligan had questioned a US Centcom statement that the Americans had taken control of Baghdad airport. Gilligan and three other journalists had visited the airport that morning and established that the Americans were not in control of the airport terminal or approach road. This report was confirmed by a further busload of journalists who were taken to the airport later that day by the Iraqi authorities. US forces did not take control of the airport until that night.

Gilligan's reporting was criticised both by the Iraqi authorities, who twice threatened to expel him for disobeying rules not to travel without a minder, and by the British Government. The British defence minister, Adam Ingram, attacked him for reporting on the day after Baghdad fell, April 10th, that Iraqi civilians were "passing their first days of freedom in a greater fear than they've ever known" due to the widespread outbreak of looting, lawlessness and disorder which broke out after the Americans arrived.

The "sexing up" allegations

On May 29, back in Britain, Gilligan reported allegations that a dossier published by the British Government had deliberately exaggerated the military capabilities of Iraq in order to justify going to war with the country. In a subsequent newspaper article, Gilligan quoted a source as identifying Alastair Campbell, then the Prime Minister's Director of Communications and Strategy, as responsible for the exaggerations.

According to Gilligan's source, the "classic" example of the exaggeration was the dossier's claim that Iraq was able to deploy biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so. Gilligan reported that experts had expressed serious doubts about this claim before publication, but these had not been heeded. In the first, unscripted report, broadcast live at 6.07am on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Gilligan claimed to have been told by his source that the Government "probably knew that the 45 minute figure was wrong even before it decided to put it in". He later acknowledged that he had been wrong to attribute this statement to his source.

Dr David Kelly

Gilligan's source was one of the world's foremost biological weapons experts, Dr David Kelly. Kelly committed suicide shortly after being identified as the source for the story. An inquiry (the Hutton Inquiry) subsequently set up to investigate the circumstances leading up to Kelly's death heard much evidence to support Gilligan's claims, but ruled that they were unfounded. The Inquiry could not establish exactly what had transpired at the meeting between Gilligan and Kelly as Gilligan took notes using a palmtop computer. Two versions of the notes were found, only one of which mentioned Alastair Campbell.

However, Gilligan's account of the conversation was substantially corroborated by independent interviews given to other BBC journalists, Susan Watts and Gavin Hewitt. Watts had recorded her conversation with Kelly, in which Kelly did indeed say that Alastair Campbell was responsible for changes to the dossier. (As both Gilligan and Watts had spoken to Dr Kelly on an unattributable basis, he could have expected his anonymity to be protected.)

Political pressure

The Government began to demand that the BBC name the source for Gilligan's report. Gilligan and the BBC refused to do so. However, after rumours began to circulate amongst his colleagues, Kelly himself eventually revealed to his employers that he had spoken to Gilligan, though he denied making the more critical comments. As he was not a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee which had drawn up the dossier, and did not have any dealings with 10 Downing Street, Dr Kelly could not have known directly of any input of Alastair Campbell into the dossier, and for that reason Campbell wanted Kelly's identity revealed in order to refute Gilligan's story.

It was later revealed that Campbell had written in his diary: "It was double-edged but GH (Geoff Hoon) and I agreed it would f*** Gilligan if that was his source." The name of David Kelly became known when several journalists picked up clues from a Government press release.

Inquiries

Kelly was called to give evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, which was undertaking an inquiry into the dossier. Gilligan emailed several members of the Committee to tell them that Susan Watts' unattributed Newsnight source was David Kelly. Though it supported Gilligan's case, it unnerved Kelly - who was forced to deny making the comments which were quoted verbatim in the committee. Susan Watts' tape of the conversation would prove this a lie, placing Kelly in jeopardy. Gilligan's actions in identifying another journalist's source went against a principle of investigative journalism: protect the source.

Despite this error and the overstatement in the first report, Gilligan had uncovered a potentially important news story, originating from a credible source. However his story suffered from weaknesses which were demonstrated during the inquiry. Lord Hutton ruled that while Alastair Campbell had made comments on the dossier, the Joint Intelligence Committee had taken all the decisions on its content. Hutton ruled that the Defence Intelligence Staff had raised doubts about the 45 minute claim, but they had been dismissed by the Secret Intelligence Service and had not reached 10 Downing Street.

A later official enquiry into the government's use of intelligence, conducted by the former head of the civil service Lord Butler, found that "more weight was placed on the intelligence than it would bear", that the dossier "put a strain on the Joint Intelligence Committee in seeking to maintain their normal standards of neutral and objective assessment", and that the judgments in the dossier went to the "outer limits...of the intelligence available."

On the 45-minute claim, Butler endorsed the concerns of the Defence Intelligence Staff and said they should have been heeded. The 45-minute claim should not have been included in the form it took, and there were "suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character." It also emerged that some of the intelligence underpinning the dossier, based on reporting from a new and untested source, had been withdrawn by MI6 as unreliable. Lord Butler revealed that much of the remainder of the intelligence was described by MI6 as "patchy" and "fragmentary," contrary to the characterisation of it by the Prime Minister as "detailed, authoritative and compelling." However, Lord Butler cleared both the Prime Minister and the chairman of the JIC, John Scarlett, of bad faith or dishonesty.

Resignation from the BBC

During the Hutton Inquiry Gilligan made little public comment on the affair, leaving that to more senior BBC personnel, including Director-General Greg Dyke and then chairman Gavyn Davies both of whom stood by Gilligan's story. All three resigned from the BBC following the publication of the Hutton Inquiry report. Gilligan was belligerent in his departure, saying: "This report casts a chill over all journalism, not just the BBC's. It seeks to hold reporters, with all the difficulties they face, to a standard that it does not appear to demand of, for instance, Government dossiers."

After leaving the BBC, Gilligan became Defence and Diplomatic Editor of The Spectator. As of 2005 he writes for the Evening Standard on defence and diplomatic affairs and on other issues, including the paper's campaign to preserve the Routemaster London bus. Public transport has long been one of Gilligan's private interests. In a speech to the Edinburgh TV Festival in August 2004, the main annual gathering of the broadcasting industry, Gilligan spoke of his "awe" at the Government's "industrial-strength, 45-carat shamelessness" over the dossier and said that the BBC should not retreat from journalism probing of the Government.

In a drama-documentary made by Peter Kosminsky in 2005 and broadcast on Channel 4, the discrepancy between the two computer versions of Gilligan's record of his meeting with Dr Kelly was explained by showing Gilligan altering the file to make it tie in with what he had reported. Gilligan described the depiction as "demonstrably, even absurdly, false", and his denial was supported by Greg Dyke. However Kosminsky said that he had been advised by a computer forensics expert.

References

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