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WMD claim reporter quits BBC

Gilligan arrives at BBC office on the day the Hutton Report was published.
Gilligan arrives at BBC office on the day the Hutton Report was published.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Reporter Andrew Gilligan who was criticized in the Hutton Report for saying the UK government exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to justify war has resigned from the BBC.

Gilligan's report, based on an interview with weapons expert David Kelly, sparked a huge controversy last summer that eventually led to the scientist taking his own life.

The BBC confirmed on Friday that Gilligan had quit, adding "We recognize that this has been a very difficult time for him."

In a statement to the Press Association, Gilligan admitted that some of his reporting about an intelligence dossier on Iraq weapons of mass destruction before the war was wrong.

He added: "I again apologise for it. My departure is at my own initiative. But the BBC collectively has been the victim of a grave injustice."

Gilligan said he had not been forced to resign but was quitting to protect the institution he "loved."

But with the BBC also reeling from the resignations of its chairman and director general in two days, opinion polls suggest the public feel the corporation was hard done by in the Hutton Report.

In a poll for The Guardian newspaper, fewer than one in four people questioned felt Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke needed to resign after Lord Hutton's scathing condemnation of the BBC's editorial and managerial standards on Wednesday.

The poll found that 31 percent of those questioned had faith in the BBC, compared to just 10 percent who had faith in ministers. Some 49 percent said they trusted neither side.

A separate poll for The Times newspaper found that -- despite his exoneration by Lord Hutton -- 36 percent looked on Prime Minister Tony Blair less favourably as a result of the Kelly affair, compared to 34 percent whose opinion of the BBC had fallen.

Following the BBC's "unreserved" apology for its reports on the government's handling of intelligence on Iraqi weapons, Blair said it was time to "draw a line" under the Kelly affair.

But the outgoing director general, whose departure was greeted by protests and walkouts by BBC staff, indicated that he may not be ready to let matters lie.

"I'm not going to talk about Hutton now, but I will at some stage," said Dyke. "And I don't necessarily accept the findings of Lord Hutton."

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has indicated the BBC will not seek to use the upcoming review of the BBC's charter to punish the corporation.

She said the BBC was "the best broadcaster in the world" and promised it would emerge from the review an independent organization that would be "nobody's lapdog."

While the BBC's governance would be on the agenda of the 10-yearly review, Lord Hutton's findings would not determine the outcome, she said.

Lord Hutton's report into the death of Dr Kelly was deeply critical of the BBC, branding its editorial processes "defective" and saying its governors were wrong to defend Gilligan after he made "unfounded" claims that the government had sexed up its weapons dossier.

Ministers were cleared of "underhand" behaviour in the naming of Kelly as Gilligan's secret source and Lord Hutton found they had not embellished the dossier with information they knew to be unreliable.

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