The BBC confirmed Sunday that microbiologist David Kelly was the primary source for their disputed report claiming that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office tried to bolster the case for war by stating Saddam Hussein could deploy some chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.
On Friday, Kelly’s body was found near his home in central England. One of his wrists had been slashed and a package of painkillers was found nearby.
Lord Hutton, one of the Law Lords who form Britain’s highest court of appeal, said an inquiry into the suicide would investigate the “circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. Kelly.”
“It will be for me to decide, as I think right within my terms of reference, the matters which should be the subject of my investigation,” Hutton said, without elaborating.
It remained unclear whether Hutton intends to meet the demands of those in Parliament who are pushing for a broader inquiry into the government’s handling of intelligence on Iraqi weapons.
Opposition Conservative Party lawmaker Oliver Letwin called for the inquiry to examine whether Blair’s office exaggerated the threat posed by Iraqi weapons.
“While there certainly does need to be an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly’s death, there are a very large numbers of questions which all center on the issue of whether the public can trust what the government tells it and which relate to the information given to parliament and the public during the lead-up to war in Iraq,” Letwin told BBC Radio.
Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary, insisted it would be impossible for Hutton to get to the bottom of Kelly’s death without examining the government’s case for war.
Cook, a Labor lawmaker who quit the Cabinet in protest to the war, said the government should “accept the inevitable” and authorize the broader probe.
“The pity is that it did not do so a couple of months ago when it first became evident that it could not find any real weapons of mass destruction,” Cook wrote in The Independent newspaper.
Blair has said he is prepared to testify before Hutton’s investigation, but on Monday he suggested the scope would be limited to Kelly’s death.
“This is a very exceptional situation which is why we decided to hold a judicial inquiry, because of the concern that there was,” he said during a trip to China. “Of course, there will be continuing debate as to whether the war was justified or not. I happen to believe it was.”
The BBC meanwhile, continued to defend itself against accusations that journalist Andrew Gilligan’s report did not reflect his contact with Kelly.
Kelly told a parliamentary committee last Tuesday he could not believe the Gilligan report came from him.
“From the conversation I had I don’t see how he could make the authoritative statement he was making from the comments I made,” he said.
The BBC was also under fire for having described Kelly as “a senior intelligence source” when he was in reality a bio-warfare expert with no role in British secret services.
“Here we have a source who denies having said what a BBC reporter claimed he said to him. And he is not the kind of source the BBC says he was,” media commentator Roy Greenslade said. “That’s just about as bad as journalism can ever get.”
The BBC countered that it “believes we accurately interpreted and reported the factual information obtained by us during interviews with Dr. Kelly.”
In his own statement on Sunday, Gilligan said, “I want to make it clear that I did not misquote or misrepresent Dr. David Kelly.”