Top BBC resignations astonished Hutton
Law lord believes his report's findings on David Kelly's death were misinterpreted by media and is dismayed at accusations of whitewash
David Hencke and Michael White
Thursday March 4, 2004
Lord Hutton was shocked by public anger at his report into the suicide of the weapons scientist, Dr David Kelly, and by the turmoil it caused at the BBC with the resignation of the corporation's two most senior figures, the Guardian has learned.
The law lord was convinced he had produced a "finding of fact" which was even-handed in criticising both the BBC's "unfounded" reporting and weaknesses in editorial control and the Ministry of Defence's failure to provide "duty of care" towards Dr Kelly.
As the dust settles on the report, leaked on publication day, January 28, reports of Lord Hutton's dismay about accusations that he produced a "whitewash" and the depth of the crisis at the BBC are beginning to circulate in Westminster and Whitehall, MPs and officials confirmed yesterday.
Within three days of the report Gavyn Davies had resigned as BBC chairman, closely followed by Greg Dyke as director general after a botched attempt to save him. Andrew Gilligan, the Today reporter whose report led to a running battle with No 10, also quit. Lord Hutton was privately astonished.
MPs on the Commons public administration committee are planning to question Lord Hutton about his reaction to his findings when he appears before them in May.
Under an agreement between the law lord and the committee's Labour chairman, Tony Wright, MPs have agreed not to question him directly about his findings or challenge his core judgment.
Instead the MPs will question him in detail about his reaction to the report - and how he feels about seeing his public image transformed from being an unimpeachable, impartial judge during his inquiry to the author of a report widely seen as having let Tony Blair off the hook by giving the government the benefit of the doubt.
One senior MP close to the Iraq controversy said: "Lord Hutton is deeply unhappy about how his report has been treated, how it was rubbished. He genuinely thought it would put an end to speculation.
"You may think it's naive for anyone to think that, but it's what he says." Lord Hutton is said to be particularly concerned that the BBC overreacted to his findings, leading to the resignations of Mr Davies and Mr Dyke, both former Labour donors who stood up to No 10.
BBC insiders believe Mr Davies quit to protect Mr Dyke, but mistimed his departure so that the remaining governors were free to accept Mr Dyke's offer to go, contrary to expectations.
There is a crucial passage in the Hutton report which the law lord believes was ignored by the media.
It runs as follows: "Therefore in the very unusual and specific circumstances relating to Mr Gilligan's broadcasts, I consider that the governors are to be criticised for themselves failing to make more detailed investigations into whether this allegation reported by Mr Gilligan was properly supported by his notes, and for failing to give proper and adequate consideration to whether the BBC should publicly acknowledge that this very grave allegation should not be broadcast."
It is said that Lord Hutton did not mean this, as the media interpreted, to be a blanket criticism of the entire BBC's editorial system.
It was meant to focus solely - within the "very unusual and specific circumstances" - on the defects within the system when handling Mr Gilligan's claims that the weapons of mass destruction dossier was "sexed up", although the dossier's claims were allegedly known to be wrong.
Lord Hutton did not expect any BBC resignations to flow from his report, not even that of Gilligan.
There is also concern in Whitehall that Mr Blair's former communications director, Alastair Campbell, used his acquittal of charges of "sexing up" the Iraq dossier, in the days immediately after the report's publication, to launch a fresh tirade against the BBC. Many otherwise loyal Labour MPs agree.
In another largely overlooked passage, the report makes clear that the governors "were right to take the view that it was their duty to protect the independence of the BBC against attacks by the government and Mr Campbell's complaints were being expressed in exceptionally strong terms, which raised very considerably the temperature of the dispute between the government and the BBC".
BBC executives remain sore that Lord Hutton was "intellectually sympathetic" to the government's problems, but not to the imperfections of journalism or its duty to put awkward issues into the public domain.
There is a concern within Whitehall that Lord Hutton's criticisms of the Ministry of Defence may have been interpreted as too muted to require proper action to remedy the duty of care to staff.
The ministry is reviewing its procedures in looking after staff and Lord Falconer, the secretary of state for constitutional affairs, has apologised for the "naming game strategy" that led to the release of Dr Kelly's name.
Journalists were able to put up to 20 different names to the MoD press office before they got the right one.
But there is concern that ministers and Whitehall will not learn all the lessons from Hutton - a view that is understood to have been forcibly put to Lord Hutton by Dr Kelly's family.