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Dyke: Government 'tried to kill' BBC's Gilligan

By James Burleigh
17 October 2004

Greg Dyke, the former director-general of the BBC, stunned a literary festival audience when he chose an unfortunate turn of phrase, saying the Government "tried to kill" the reporter Andrew Gilligan.

Mr Dyke, who was forced out of his job at the BBC in January in the wake of the Hutton report, launched into a familiar tirade against the Government at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature in Gloucestershire.

Mr Dyke said: "Andrew Gilligan was a guy of 32; like all those press guys ... they're all a bit odd. It's the nature of the world they work in. He lives on his own and he's not the most popular man in the world.

"The Government tried to kill him. Campbell hated him. They tried to get him. When he wouldn't do the deed [a reference to Gilligan apologising], they basically said to us: 'Right, we are going to throw the whole PR operation of the Government against you'. These are not nice people.

"The reason Dr Kelly's name came into the public agenda - it was put there at the suggestion of Alastair Campbell by people from the press office in the Ministry of Defence."

Mr Dyke also told the audience that he was twice offered a deal by the Government. "They said - first through Mandelson and then through Blair - 'The deal is this. You've got to say the story is wrong and we'll say you were entitled to broadcast it'," he said. "Well, we didn't know it was wrong. If you do the analysis now, Gilligan's story was right. The BBC board will have to stand up for what it believes in."

He added that Gilligan made "one key mistake" when he said the Government "ordered" more information to be put in the dossier. He asked: "How could we have ensured everything was correct? During Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein put out stories that weren't correct.

"They [the Government] have not even begun to apologise for what they should be apologising for. Some people in Downing Street knew [that intelligence was being falsely presented], there's no doubt about it.

"It is all in the public report if you look at the minutiae. In March 2002 Blair met Bush ... committed us to war. He said to intelligence: 'Find me the evidence.' The governors betrayed everything that the BBC was about."

Describing his departure from Broadcasting House, Mr Dyke said: "I didn't really resign. I was given not a lot of option to resign. It is possible that if the Government had waited two days the whole story would have been different. By the Sunday, it was clear that people hadn't 'bought' Hutton.

"Dr Kelly killed himself and that changed the thing completely. I should have launched one of those wonderful BBC enquiries.

"Kelly was a whistle-blower. The law allows us to report his concerns as long as he was a qualified source. As the leading expert on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq he was a qualified source."

Dyke recalled a friend, who advised him, "'Watch your back' ... I just assumed that I'd carry everyone along with me," he said ruefully.