Hard News by Russell Brown

Dark actors

Would you be surprised if I told you that the phrase "sexed up" does not appear in Andrew Gilligan's now infamous broadcast about Downing Street's handling of Iraqi weapons intelligence?

Tony Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, who apparently escalated the affair to clear his name, is not named either. The story highlights the "45 minutes" claim as one which came from only a single source, and quotes its anonymous confidant - who we now know to be David Kelly - as saying that intelligence officers did not believe it was accurate.

At its most risqué, it quotes Kelly as saying that the September weapons dossier "was transformed in the week before it was published to make it sexier. The classic example was the claim that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes. That information was not in the original draft."

We now know that last sentence to be true, thanks to the Parliamentary select committee hearings. Those same MPs found that Campbell was not responsible for the alteration, but Gilligan doesn't actually make that allegation in his story.

The strange thing is that Andrew Wilkie, the Australian intelligence officer who resigned in protest before the war, said much the same - and worse - about his own Prime Minister on the Holmes show last night.

We've read in detail about Bush administration officials - and his vice president Dick Cheney - pressuring the CIA to provide intelligence that supported the case for war, and ignoring caveats and qualifications that didn't suit their purposes.

We have even heard much the same about Downing Street from other journalists separately briefed by David Kelly, including another BBC reporter, Newsnight's Susan Watts, whose own report quoted the source we now know was Kelly as saying of the 45 minutes claim: "It was a statement that was made and it just got out of all proportion. They were desperate for information, they were pushing hard for information which could be released. That was one that popped up and it was seized on and it's unfortunate that it was."

You consider all that, and you think, a man had to die for this? And then you wonder what happened to make Kelly tell a journalist by email, after a grilling by a select committee, that there were "many dark actors playing games". What so badly spooks a man who has been up close and personal with the old Iraqi regime?

So is the BBC complicit in Kelly's suicide? Well, it didn't leak his name to the press - we now know that that was done by Ministry of Defence officials, probably under the direction of Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, who has previously lied to the public about it.

But where the BBC got it wrong was in getting way too cute: claiming that its source was "a senior intelligence official" (a claim, incidentally, that Gilligan never made in his broadcast, where Kelly was accurately described as "a British official who was involved in the preparation of the dossier"), and giving the broad impression that Kelly was not the source. The Guardian reports that BBC bosses declined a compromise late in the piece. They didn't want to be seen to take a backward step against Campbell. Had they done so, it's possible that Kelly might be alive today. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

We don't know yet whether Gilligan sexed up his own report - unfairly paraphrasing Kelly or even inventing a few sentences - but as his and Watts' notes go to the judicial inquiry, we should eventually find out.

Meanwhile, the deputy editor of the Mail on Sunday describes an extraordinary confrontation with a "disturbed and dangerous" Campbell.

Thank goodness, then, for sport. The All Blacks simply thrashed the Springboks at Loftus - although to be fair, they were allowed to. For the second time this season, the ABs have been able to sustain both composure and rhythm across a whole game, scoring seven tries and finishing the game by shattering the Bok scrum. They're looking quite good.

And the Silver Ferns broke the Aussie hoodoo in Jamaica. Netball at this elite level - and face it, there are only two teams that play at such a level - is simply wonderful to watch. Fast, physical, tense, close. You have to wonder how it would look if it was played as widely in the world as football. But, then, it's probably a good thing that it isn't …