Dyke stakes all on battle with Labour
By Benedict Brogan, Political Correspondent
Greg Dyke, the BBC's director-general, has staked his reputation and that of the corporation on an "all or nothing" confrontation with the Government and Tony Blair's director of communications Alastair Campbell.
Mr Dyke, who was appointed by Labour, has involved himself in the increasingly bitter row between Downing Street and the BBC over who told the truth about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
MPs on the Commons foreign affairs select committee predicted yesterday that their inquiry would clear Mr Campbell of the BBC's central charge - that he forced the intelligence services to "sex up" the Government's first dossier on Iraq.
If the Labour-dominated committee finds in Mr Campbell's favour, there could be dire consequences for Mr Dyke and Gavyn Davies, the BBC's chairman, who has added his weight to the fight with No 10.
BBC sources said the confrontation was "the most difficult crisis" to hit the corporation. "When you get yourself in a row like this there's normally an escape route, but I don't see one," said one.
Andrew Gilligan, the Radio 4 Today reporter who first disclosed what he claimed were doubts within MI6 about Mr Campbell's tactics, announced yesterday that he was preparing an action for defamation against a minister.
He spent the weekend compiling a dossier for his managers which they will present to the foreign affairs committee today. It is said to provide a "sober" assessment of "inconsistencies" in Mr Campbell's evidence to the committee, in which he challenged the BBC to apologise for its "lies".
As the battle between the Government and the BBC escalated, with a fresh exchange of letters and accusations, it emerged that Mr Dyke played a central role in drafting the BBC's official response to Mr Campbell.
A detailed note issued last Friday by Richard Sambrook, the BBC's head of news, was prepared in the director-general's presence, with Mr Dyke taking turns at the keyboard as it was being written.
Ministers warned privately that the corporation's two most senior figures, both Labour donors, were on "thin ice". One said: "This is bad for Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies. You have to ask yourself what this is doing to the reputation of the BBC."
One minister said that if the BBC was found to have abused its position as a public service broadcaster it could open a debate about the renewal of its royal charter and its reliance on the licence fee.
Mr Sambrook last night launched a fresh defence of the BBC's reporting. "The real question for the BBC is were we right to report what we actually said, when we said it? We believe the answer is 'Yes'," he said.
The Government has admitted that the second dossier on Iraq, which it published in February - the so-called "dodgy dossier" - was plagiarised from previously published material.
But it has fiercely rejected claims - originally reported by Gilligan on Today - that the first dossier, published last September, was "sexed up" on Mr Campbell's orders.
He was said to have demanded the inclusion of an "unreliable" intelligence report suggesting Iraq could deploy its weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.
MPs complained that the impression of an imminent threat from Saddam was instrumental in persuading them to vote for war. Some have accused Mr Blair of misleading Parliament.
The BBC's determination to back Gilligan was underscored by its decision to fund his legal action against Phil Woolas, the deputy leader of the Commons, who accused him of misleading the foreign affairs committee when he gave evidence.
Gilligan's case inside the BBC is understood to have been bolstered by his decision to tell Mr Sambrook the identity of the single intelligence source behind his story.
The dossier he is preparing for the committee will include details of other claims made by his source which have not so far been reported by the BBC.
Mr Dyke and Mr Sambrook, along with Gilligan and Mark Damazer, deputy director of news, sat in Mr Sambrook's office preparing their first reply to a series of charges issued by Mr Campbell.
"Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies, they're all in this," a BBC source said. "Greg is the BBC's editor-in-chief and it is inconceivable that he would not be heavily involved."
29 June 2003: Pressure mounts on BBC as MPs clear Campbell of 'sexing up' Iraq dossier 29 June 2003: Gunfight at the BBC Corral 28 June 2003: No 10 is waging a vendetta, claims the BBC 28 June 2003: Campbell goes on TV to deny BBC vendetta 28 June 2003: BBC reply to Alastair Campbell 27 June 2003: BBC and No 10 in war of words over Campbell