AFTER just three days the Hutton Inquiry has thrown up enough conflicting evidence to satisfy every conspiracy theorist in the land. A quick glance at the headlines of the British newspapers shows that there is something for every shade of opinion in the evidence given so far about the BBC's role in the Kelly affair. It is unlikely, however, that anything more authentic will surface than the tape recording of the conversation Dr Kelly had with Susan Watts, the BBC's Newsnight reporter, a couple of days after Andrew Gilligan first suggested that No 10 Downing Street had played a part in sexingup the government dossier which included the claim that Iraq was capable of launching a missile with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order being given. In his evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee, Dr Kelly tried to give the impression that Mr Gilligan's report could not have been based on briefings by him. Two sections of the long, rambling conversation between Susan Watts and Dr Kelly are directly relevant to Gilligan's claim that his report was based on what Dr Kelly had told him. The first recalled an earlier conversation they had had together:
SW: What intrigued me and which made, prompted me to ring you was the quotes on the Today programme about the 45 minutes part of the dossier.
DK: Yep. We spoke about this before, of course.
SW: We have.
DK: You know my views on that.
SW: Yes, I've looked back at my notes and you were actually quite specific at that time I may have missed a trick on that one but...(both laugh)...You were more specific than the source on the
Today programme not that that necessarily means that it's not one and the same person but, um, in fact you actually referred to Alastair Campbell in that conversation. DK: Er, yep, yep, with you.
The second section of the conversation followed after various other topics had been touched on:
SW: Just back momentarily on the 45 minute issue, I'm feeling like I ought to explore that a little bit more with you, um, er, so would it be accurate then, as you did in that earlier conversation, to say that it was Alastair Campbell himself who... DK: No I can't. All I can say is the No 10 Press Office. I've never met Alastair Campbell so I can't. But I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that Press Office because he's responsible for it.
These passages show Dr Kelly's tendency to shade his statements from one occasion to another; but there can be no doubt from them that he believed that Alastair Campbell (or others acting for him) played an important role in the preparation of the dossier and the prominence given to the 45 minutes threat from Iraq. It is odd, therefore, that in her evidence yesterday Ms Watts said that she believed that Mr Campbell was not personally involved. Dr Kelly's words to her on two occasions suggest that he thought he was responsible. Ms Watts also complained that pressure had been put on her by the BBC management to agree that her interviews confirmed Mr Gilligan's Today report. Given the words used by Dr Kelly that is hardly surpising. At the same time, I have to admire Ms Watts' independence and courage, even if it seems somewhat misplaced.