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Davies threatens to sue Campbell for libel

Owen Gibson, chief reporter

Monday July 12, 2004

Former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies has hit out at the government over its triumphant reaction to the Hutton report and revealed he was still considering suing former Downing Street 10 spin chief Alastair Campbell for libel In his first interview since resigning as BBC chairman in the wake of Lord Hutton's damning verdict on the BBC's management and journalism, Mr Davies criticised the prime minister, Tony Blair, for his reaction to the judge's conclusion and said he could still sue Mr Campbell if he didn't apologise.

At the time of his resignation following Lord Hutton's scathing report, which also claimed the scalp of director general Greg Dyke, Mr Davies said he was "brought up to believe the referee's decision is final". But in an interview with the Sunday Times he said that "the action replay has hardly substantiated the referee's decision".

Mr Davies was a former economics adviser to No 10 and is married to Sue Nye, who runs the office of chancellor Gordon Brown, but yesterday hit out at Mr Blair for reneging on a secret pact between the BBC and the government not to crow about Lord Hutton's verdict.

But following Lord Hutton's brutal condemnation of the BBC's actions in the wake of claims by Andrew Gilligan, a reporter on Radio 4's Today programme, that the government had "sexed up" the Iraqi dossier, Mr Davies said the government had not been able to resist adding to the pressure on the corporation.

He revealed he planned to remain as BBC chairman even after seeing an advance copy of the report but that after seeing Mr Blair's triumphant performance in the Commons realised his position was untenable.

"It didn't feel that way [that Blair wanted him to remain] on the day I resigned. It was untenable to stay after listening to the prime minister in the Commons. My [private] conversations with him had left me feeling better about him than when I'd started," said Mr Davies.

"Whether he actually delivered all the things he said, history will judge. Once the report was published, the government saw no reason to stick to the agreement," he added.

Mr Campbell, who had already stepped down as No 10 director of communications by the time the report came out, fanned the flames with a triumphant press conference on the steps of the Foreign Press Association in which he effectively encouraged Mr Davies and Mr Dyke to resign.

"What the report shows very clearly is this: the prime minister told the truth, the government told the truth, I told the truth. The BBC, from the chairman and director general down, did not," he said.

"If the government had faced the level of criticism that today Lord Hutton has directed to the BBC, there would clearly have been resignations by now - several resignations at several levels," he added.

Mr Davies, who is worth around 90m from his days as chief economist at Goldman Sachs, said he had been told by lawyers he could sue Mr Campbell for libel because Lord Hutton never accused him of deceit.

"I am still wondering what to do. Alastair Campbell has said 'Gavyn should get over it'. I am over it but I still don't accept his point of view. This is not a vendetta, but one day Alastair Campbell will say sorry," he said.

Lord Butler's report into the intelligence on which the decision to go to war with Iraq was based could, believes Mr Davies, exonerate him, Mr Dyke and Gilligan if it shows that Mr Campbell did in effect "sex up" the dossier that persuaded MPs to go to war.

"It will be interested to see whether he has learnt the lessons of Hutton," Mr Davies told the Sunday Times.

Mr Davies said the experience had turned him off politics and public life and revealed that he no longer even intended to vote Labour.

"I don't have the skills of a senior politician and I don't want them. I don't like them. Nothing of the past 12 months has made me like them more," he said.

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