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Susan Watts

From Academic Kids

Susan Watts is the science editor of the BBC's Newsnight programme, joining the programme in January 1995.

She was educated at Imperial College London, and spent 10 years as a print journalist specialising in scientific topics, working for Computer Weekly, New Scientist and the Independent, before moving to television.

Watts came into the limelight in Summer 2003 during the Hutton Inquiry, a judicial inquiry into the death of Biological Weapons expert Dr David Kelly. Kelly had committed suicide after his exposure as the source for a controversial report by fellow BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, in which it was claimed that the British government had deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction in order to justify a war.

On June 2nd 2003, Susan Watts broadcast a report in which she quoted a "senior official involved with the process of pulling together the original September 2002 Blair weapons dossier" extensively. Her source was Dr Kelly. The thrust of the report was similar to Gilligan's, but the key allegations were described in more measured terms.

Like Gilligan, Watts had spoken to Kelly on an unattributable basis, but unlike Gilligan, she had kept detailed verbatim notes of her conversations, and in one case a tape recording. Watts' notes and recording showed that Kelly had made remarks very similar to those attributed to him by Gilligan; her shorthand notes read:

"A mistake to put it in, Alastair Campbell seeing something in there, single source but not corroborated, sounded good."

However she objected to the BBC's interpretation of this evidence (as corroborating Gilligan). She had felt under "considerable internal pressure" to back her employers, despite her own misgivings and as a result she was represented by independent counsel at the Hutton Inquiry. There she told Lord Hutton that she regarded Kelly's remarks about the involvement of Alistair Campbell in the strengthening of claims in the dossier as no more than a "glib statement" and a "gossipy aside". Gilligan had clearly made more of similar remarks which lead Watts to ask Kelly in an email:

"Did I miss a trick?"
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