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MPs postpone publication of Gilligan's evidence

By Benedict Brogan
(Filed: 25/07/2003)

The Commons foreign affairs select committee last night postponed plans to publish secret evidence from the BBC journalist at the centre of the David Kelly affair after a confidential appeal from the corporation's chairman.

Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the committee, said it had "reluctantly" decided to withhold the transcript of Andrew Gilligan's appearance, which was supposed to be released this week.

The decision, based on what he said was a "private communication" from Gavyn Davies that "has to remain confidential", fuelled speculation circulating at Westminster that the BBC is concerned about Gilligan's state of mind.

The Today programme's defence correspondent was accused by the committee of changing his story when he gave evidence in private about his contacts with Dr Kelly, the Ministry of Defence scientist who was found dead last week.

The BBC confirmed on Monday that Dr Kelly, an expert on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, had been the source of Gilligan's claim that Downing Street had "sexed up" intelligence on Iraq.

Last week, Mr Anderson had described Gilligan's second appearance before the committee as an "unsatisfactory session with an unsatisfactory witness". He promised to publish the evidence.

Gilligan hit back, claiming the committee's Labour majority had acted as a "hanging jury" to discredit him. He said the transcript would prove that he had stood by his account.

Last night, a BBC spokesman said the corporation was happy for the transcript to be published but said it was more appropriate to submit it first to the Hutton inquiry. "The BBC absolutely rebuts suggestions that it is in order to suppress Andrew Gilligan's account of himself at that committee."

In his statement, Mr Anderson said he had received a letter from Gilligan, asking that the transcript should not be brought into the public domain.

"I have also received a private communication from the chairman of the BBC, which has to remain confidential," Mr Anderson said. "In the light of these considerations, the committee has reluctantly decided not to publish the transcript of Mr Gilligan's evidence of July 17, at the present time."

Meanwhile, it emerged that the hearings for Lord Hutton's inquiry will be held at the Royal Courts of Justice in London but will not be televised.

Yesterday, the Financial Times, one of the newspapers that was helped by government press officers in its efforts to identify Dr Kelly, claimed to have been briefed on what Mr Blair would say to the Hutton inquiry. The paper said Mr Blair had known a week before it was made public that an official had come forward within the Ministry of Defence and identified himself as the probable source of Gilligan's reports.

Details of Dr Kelly's funeral have not been made public but it is expected that it will include elements of the Baha'i faith.

The bell at Shrewsbury Abbey will be rung for half an a hour on the day of Dr Kelly's funeral and the organiser of the tribute, Dr Peter Hunter, a retired consultant physician from Telford, urged other churches to join in the mark of respect.

The Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, is awaiting the results of toxicology tests before releasing Dr Kelly's body to his family.

©Copyright 2003, The Daily Telegraph (UK)

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