LONDON – A British Broadcasting Corp. reporter — and not a top government weapons adviser — was the one who suggested during an interview that a top aide of Prime Minister Tony Blair was behind an exaggeration of the threat posed by Iraq, an arms expert said Thursday.
That testimony by Olivia Bosch contradicted statements by the BBC's Andrew Gilligan, who said adviser David Kelly (search) suggested the name of key Blair aide Alastair Campbell (search) without prompting.
Bosch, testifying at an inquiry into Kelly's apparent suicide, said Kelly told her during a phone conversation that Gilligan played a "name game" with him when they met.
"He said he was taken aback by the way Andrew Gilligan tried to elicit information from him," Bosch said. "He said he had never experienced it in the way that Gilligan had tried to do so, by a 'name game.'
"The first name he [Gilligan] mentioned, and very quickly, was Campbell," Bosch told the inquiry, which is headed by senior appeals judge Lord Hutton.
Kelly said he felt obliged to give Gilligan some form of answer, so he said "maybe," she testified.
Gilligan told a different story in a piece for the Mail on Sunday on June 6: "I asked him how this transformation happened. The answer was a single word: 'Campbell.'"
Campbell, Blair's communications chief, will resign in a few weeks for what he said were personal reasons.
Gilligan interviewed Kelly, a former U.N. weapons inspector, about which government official was responsible for including in a government dossier a claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes.
Kelly, a 59-year-old microbiologist, apparently committed suicide after being identified by Defense Ministry bosses as a possible source of a BBC report that Blair's office inserted the 45-minute claim into a September dossier against the wishes of intelligence officials. The government and intelligence chiefs deny that.
Bosch, also a former U.N. weapons inspector, said she met Kelly at a conference last year while working at a defense think tank. She said they subsequently spoke two or three times a week by phone and corresponded frequently by e-mail.
Hutton is investigating events leading up to the death of Kelly, whose body was found July 18 in woodland near his rural home. His left wrist had been slashed, and a government pathologist concluded he died from loss of blood.
Previous testimony at the inquiry has shown that Kelly was skeptical about the government's evaluation of the threat posed by Iraqi weapons.
On Thursday, Tom Mangold, a friend of Kelly and a journalist, testified that he spoke to Kelly about the Gilligan report and Kelly believed the 45-minute claim was "risible."
"We occasionally gossiped on the phone and on this occasion we gossiped about the 45-minute claim because I thought it sounded risible to me and I wondered what he thought about it," Mangold said. "He thought it was risible, too.
"He did not feel that weapons would be deployed or activated within 45 minutes."
Following the morning hearing, Hutton adjourned the inquiry until Sept. 15 while he analyzed evidence from past weeks and considered which witnesses to recall.