Andrew Gilligan’s e-mail to members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, in which Dr David Kelly was exposed as the source for Newsnight science editor Susan Watts’s report, was “probably a bad move”, according to the man who recruited him to the BBC.
But Rod Liddle, the former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, also said he could understand why defence correspondent Gilligan did it.
Liddle, who recruited Gilligan from The Sunday Telegraph in a bid to break more stories on Today, said he hadn’t spoken to Gilligan since it emerged that he sent the e-mail to Liberal Democrat MP David Chidgey and Conservative MP Richard Ottaway.
In an e-mail, Gilligan confirmed Kelly as Watts’ source and suggested questions the MPs could ask the weapons expert when he appeared in front of the committee on 15 July. “I suspect he’s in trouble about the e-mail. It was probably a bad move, but I can understand how it came about.
He’s in the middle of a vortex of vilification and I guess he gave in to temptation,” said Liddle. He has been a vociferous defender of Gilligan since the journalist’s 29 May report of the “sexed-up dossier” exploded into controversy, defending him on television and in print.
In that fateful report, Gilligan suggested the Government inserted the 45-minute claim into the dossier despite knowing it to be “wrong”. Liddle said: “I concede the 6.07am two-way [broadcast] should have been scripted. And Gilligan’s use of the word ‘wrong’ was wrong. He should have said ‘dubious’ or ‘suspicious’. But it is such a small thing to be haranguing someone over.” Liddle resigned from Today after writing an opinionated article in The Guardian criticising the Countryside Alliance. He was asked to choose between both media organisations, opting for the latter.
Both Liddle and Gilligan’s troubles stemmed from their extracurricular writing activities. “Writing for The Guardian was meant to help boost listeners of the Today programme – to generate a younger, different audience. Gilligan wrote in newspapers for the same reasons,” Liddle said.
“Greg Dyke [BBC director general] and [chairman] Gavyn Davies were perfectly liberal in their attitude – and I’m very grateful for it.”