Friday, 28 January 2005

Greg Dyke: Two years after the war, one year after Hutton. Why hasn't Blair resigned yet?

Today marks the first anniversary of the publication of the infamous Hutton report which led to my departure from the BBC and that of my chairman, Gavyn Davies. Looking back 12 months, and knowing what we now know, the saga has an unreal quality because, today, there is no doubt that the BBC story which led to our departures was fundamentally right when it said that Downing Street had sexed up the case for going to war in Iraq.

So, if this was true, why did such a bizarre series of events happen, events which led to the departure of the two top players at the BBC? Of course I am not unbiased, but I think the answer can be found in the combination of a conservative and naïve judge in Lord Hutton, a disingenuous Prime Minister, a talented but increasingly unstable head of the government information service in Alastair Campbell, and a gutless bunch of BBC governors who behaved like frightened rabbits.

However, 12 months on, a series of questions still need to be answered. How did Hutton get it so wrong? How did the general public know instinctively that his report was a whitewash? How damaged is the BBC? Did Dr Kelly kill himself? And the biggest question of all, how has the Prime Minister survived the political fallout from Iraq, Hutton and, in particular, the Butler report?

What is now clear is that the person who has suffered the most from Lord Hutton's report is Lord Hutton himself, a man now widely regarded as a joke figure. He was a virtually unknown law lord when he was selected to chair the inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly. He knew nothing of media law and the only inquiry he had held before was into the re-routing of a river in Northern Ireland.

So how come he was chosen? His name was reportedly suggested by Peter Mandelson, clearly as he believed Hutton was likely to support the establishment position - and that's exactly what he tried to do. One of Tony Blair's inner circle, his close friend and pollster Philip Gould, has said as much.

When extracts from my book Inside Story were published in The Observer and The Mail on Sunday in September last year I quoted Gould (now a lord) telling another Labour lord that everything was going to be OK with Hutton because "we appointed the right judge". Initially, Gould not only denied the story but threatened to take legal action. The issue only went away when he discovered we could prove he had said it.

So I think we can assume that Lord Hutton was chosen for particular qualities: as a Northern Irish Diplock judge, he both disliked journalists and had a close relationship with the security services who had protected him and his family many times. The latter is important because, if the saga is about anything, it is a scandal about MI6 and the efforts of people in the secret services to please Blair and Campbell.

Which takes us on to the second question; how did the public recognise the report was a whitewash so quickly? A poll in The Daily Telegraph two days after it was published found that 56 per cent of those interviewed agreed that: "Lord Hutton, as a member of the establishment, was too ready to sympathise with the Government and in the end produced something like a whitewash."

Members of the Government were genuinely shocked by this reaction; they thought they had been cleared, but the public decided otherwise. But, given that it was another six months before the concrete evidence which destroyed Hutton was published with Lord Butler's devastating critique of how Blair runs the Government, how did the public know so early that it was a deeply flawed report?

Here I suspect Lord Hutton was hoist by his own petard. He had held a ground-breaking inquiry: he ran it in a fair way, it was open to the public and all the evidence was available on the internet. The problem was that his findings did not line up with the evidence, which the public had seen and heard for themselves. So they instinctively rejected his ridiculously one-sided findings.

Of course, the BBC governors didn't take the same view as the public and decided to get rid of me as a result. It was a coincidence that they were meeting the day Hutton reported; it was not planned and I suspect if they hadn't met until the following week the outcome would have been different. There would have been no "rush to judgement". But much more important is: What impact has the affair had on the BBC?

Its reputation has been compromised and, as a result, its independence has been questioned, particularly overseas. Whenever I've travelled abroad in the past year I have found a strong belief that it was Blair personally who got rid of Gavyn and I as a means of pulling the BBC into line and to stop it challenging the Government in the future. The feeling abroad is that the BBC had gone along with this to preserve its future.

Now, I don't believe this to be the case but, until the new leaders of the BBC stand up and make their position clear on the Gilligan affair, people won't know for certain whether or not to believe these allegations. Other executives inside the BBC who were intimately involved in the Kelly affair have also gone remarkably quiet since. It is probably time for them to speak out too.

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