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BBC Iraq reporter admits errors

Gilligan arrives at the inquiry for cross-examination.

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LONDON, England -- A BBC correspondent has admitted making errors in the way he reported claims that the UK government exaggerated its evidence on Iraq's alleged WMD.

Andrew Gilligan was giving evidence on Wednesday to the Hutton Inquiry which is examining the apparent suicide of government scientist David Kelly after he was exposed as the main source of one of Gilligan's live radio reports.

Questioned by government lawyer Jonathan Sumption, Gilligan admitted a "slip of the tongue" in his report, subsequently failing to alert BBC bosses when his error got repeated, and losing notes of a key meeting.

He also said he was wrong to write an e-mail to members of a parliamentary committee just before they questioned Kelly, days before the scientists' death in July.

Gilligan said: "It was quite wrong to send it and I can only apologize. I was under an enormous amount of pressure at the time and I simply was not thinking straight."

But he stood by his argument that there had been misgivings among intelligence officials about a dossier on Iraq's weapons, published by Tony Blair's government in September 2002.

Later, Richard Sambrook, the BBC's head of news, admitted there had been errors in BBC statements following Gilligan's report as a row developed with Blair's office.

He said the BBC should have taken longer examining the issues and that Gilligan's radio report should have been approved by lawyers first.

In his May 29 broadcast, Gilligan said an unnamed senior British intelligence official alleged that Blair's office inserted a claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes' notice, when it knew the information was probably wrong.

Appearing at the inquiry for a second time Wednesday, Gilligan said he had not intended to give the impression the government had lied.

"The allegation I intended to make was a spin. I do regret those words ... and I shouldn't have used them."

Gilligan also admitted he was wrong to describe the scientist as a "member of the intelligence services" in his report.

But he told the inquiry his report did accurately reflect Kelly's belief that some people in the intelligence services were unhappy about the 45-minute claim because they believed it had not been sufficiently corroborated.

Matt Wells, media correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, told CNN that Gilligan had a tough time Wednesday.

"He had to make a number of concessions, a number of apologies, acknowledge some of what he had said was wrong. That didn't do his case any good at all.

"Today's evidence might be bad for the BBC but it's only an indication of how bad it's going to get for the government as well.

"Because when Geoff Hoon and Alastair Campbell -- the defense secretary and Blair's former director of communications -- come back to the witness stand, they can expect the same level of hostile questioning."

The Hutton Inquiry has reached the stage where lawyers for the government, the BBC and Kelly's family can cross-examine key figures who have been recalled.

The inquiry, at London's Royal Courts of Justice, will continue until September 25, when Lord Hutton will begin preparing his report.

Nobody is on trial but Hutton's conclusions could have serious repercussions for the BBC and the government, which opinion polls suggest is losing public trust over its policy on Iraq.

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