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Hain: 'BBC sexed up dossier report'

"If we don't crack this problem and burst this Westminster bubble, then we will all go down together" - Peter Hain

8.27AM BST, 27 Jul 2003

The leader of the House of Commons has launched an attack on the BBC as the corporation's head accuses MPs of threatening its independence in revenge for the Iraq dossier reports.

Peter Hain pleaded for a halt in hostilities following the suicide of Government scientist Dr David Kelly who was enmeshed in a vicious dispute over Prime Minister Tony Blair's case for war in Iraq.

The weapons expert slashed his wrist at a beauty spot after being named as the prime source for BBC reports that the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was "sexed up".

Chairman Gavyn Davies and the BBC's board of governors have come under fire over their support for reporter Andrew Gilligan said that intelligence officers were unhappy with the handling of material about Iraq's weapons capability.

Mr Hain has now accused the BBC of seeking to take on the role of political opposition and said it was Mr Gilligan's report - not the dossier - which was "sexed up".

He said there is public disgust at the bickering between politicians and journalists which has reached new heights.

"If we don't crack this problem and burst this Westiminster bubble, then we will all go down together," he said.

Meanwhile, Roger Kingdon, a fellow member of Dr Kelly's Baha'i faith, has said the scientist had expressed reservations about the presentation of the threat posed by Iraq as early as October 5 last year.

That was just 11 days after the publication of the controversial dossier on September 24.

On Friday it emerged that plans to publish evidence given in secret by Mr Gilligan to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee have been postponed indefinitely at the reporter's request.

The BBC denied it is trying to suppress Mr Gilligan's evidence and insisted it would be more appropriate for the transcript to come before Lord Hutton's judicial inquiry into Dr Kelly's death.

Yesterday Lord Hutton visited Dr Kelly's widow Janice to discuss his probe into the circumstances which led to the tragedy.

The BBC chairman has now raised concerns about speculation that the Government is considering scrapping the BBC's independent board of governors and handing over its powers to the new media regulatory body Ofcom.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has said she will "consider very carefully" any recommendations from Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly when making a decision later this year on the BBC's 2006 licence renewal.

Mr Davies said: "Our integrity is under attack and we are chastised for taking a different view on editorial matters from that of the Government and its supporters."

"Because we have had the temerity to do this, it is hinted that a system that has protected the BBC for 80 years should be swept away and replaced by an external regulator that will `bring the BBC to heel'.

"I trust that wiser heads in the Government will prevail. There is only one reason why the BBC has been able to build the trust of its audiences over so many years and that is because it is emphatically not the voice of the state."

©Copyright 2003, ITV Network (UK)

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