Watts: 'BBC tried to mould my stories to back Gilligan'

Newsnight journalist Susan Watts attacked the BBC’s “misguided” attempt to “mould” her stories in a bid to back up Andrew Gilligan’s claims on the Today programme that the Government had made its dossier on Iraq’s weapons sexier.

She also said she felt she had been pressurised by management to reveal the identity of her source – later con?rmed as Dr David Kelly – for her two Newsnight reports, on 2 and 4 June, into the dossier.

Giving evidence to the Hutton Inquiry that will damage the BBC’s case, Watts, Newsnight’s science editor, distanced herself from the claims that Alastair Campbell was responsible for the insertion that Iraq’s chemical weapons could be deployed in 45 minutes.

She felt there were signi?cant differences between her reports and Gilligan’s that the BBC was ignoring.

Watts said: “I felt some concern about the fact that there was an attempt to mould them so that they were corroborative. I felt this was misguided and false.”

She said she had learnt from discussions with BBC colleagues that there may be a process of triangulation in an attempt to put together any pieces of information she had given.

“I felt the BBC was moulding them [hers and Gilligan’s stories] so that they were reaching the same conclusions.

I felt this was a misguided strategy,” she said for a second time.

She told the inquiry she had telephoned Kelly after she heard Gilligan’s report and had expressed concerns that she had “missed a trick” by not including Campbell’s name in her report. A 17-minute tape that Watts had recorded of that telephone conversation was played to the inquiry.

He reminded her he had mentioned Campbell’s name in an earlier meeting, but when she pressed him on whether he could be sure Campbell himself had been responsible for the additions to the dossier, he answered “no I can’t”.

But he added: “I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with the press of?ce, because he is responsible for it.”

Watts also revealed she had felt under “considerable pressure” to reveal her source to BBC bosses and as a result had taken independent legal advice paid for by the BBC.

Again Watts distanced herself from the of?cial BBC line that it had only been prepared to reveal its source after Kelly’s death. She described a meeting with Richard Sambrook, director of news, on 3 July when he asked her if she would be prepared to reveal her source. When she refused he had asked her: “If I give you a name would you con?rm or deny it?” Watts had revealed her source to George Entwistle, editor of Newsnight, on the strict understanding that the conversation was privileged and should go no further.

However, she felt that Kelly’s appearance at the select committee hearing had relieved her of her responsibility to protect his identity because he had not been truthful about his quotes and had been “less than frank” about the contact they had had.

By Julie Tomlin

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