(312) HOLYROOD, HUTTON AND THE BBC
Lord Hutton’s report on the apparent suicide of Dr David Kelly, the MoD weapons scientist and source of a BBC News story that the Government had ‘sexed up’ intelligence reports about the threat posed to British interests by Iraq’s supposed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) in order to convince the public of the need for a military intervention in that country, was published on 28 January 2004. To considerable public disbelief, Lord Hutton held the Government’s conduct over the way in which Dr Kelly’s name became public not to be blameworthy. He also condemned the BBC’s management failures in allowing the original story to be broadcast and then not investigating the basis of the story in vigorously defending itself against equally vigorous Government complaint. (It is parenthetically worth noting that it was the Government that wanted Kelly’s name to be publicised, and the BBC that wanted to keep secret the identity of its source.) As a result of Hutton’s conclusions, the Chairman of the BBC, its Director General, and the reporter who had submitted the original story all resigned from the organisation in the days following.
During the run-up to the publication of the Hutton report, the BBC had shown an extract from an unbroadcast interview with Dr Kelly, filmed in October 2002, during which he had affirmed the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD (contrary to the position he later took in speaking ‘off the record’ to BBC journalists). The BBC also sent a transcript of this interview to Lord Hutton as he prepared his report.
The contrast between the BBC’s willingness to send unbroadcast interview material to a judicial inquiry in which its own interests were at stake, and the unwillingness of BBC Scotland to give access to similar material to the Fraser inquiry into the costs of the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood (see Nos 275, 285 and 299), has been seized upon by Lord Fraser himself, who wrote to the new acting chairman of the BBC in London on 30 January, requesting transcripts and/or tapes of the interviews relevant to his inquiry, and seeking the same level of cooperation as the BBC gave the Hutton inquiry.
Lord Fraser’s inquiry resumes its public sittings on 4 February.