I have never been a fan of the libel laws, and contrary to the claims of some in the media, I rarely bother to complain about things written about me. Life is too short and in any event if people in our street believed the bile and the bilge in papers like the Mail, I wouldn’t be able to walk down to the shops.
But it would seem some critics of government policy on Iraq think it is once again open season to say what they like, including the kind of thing that I simply cannot allow to go without comment and action. This not least because many journalists now routinely regurgitate libels without making any independent checks whatever.
I was grateful to Steve Richards of The Independent for agreeing he had misrepresented my position with regard to prior consultation about the Iraq inquiry, and my position as to whether it should be public or private. It didn’t stop William Hague making the same claim in the Commons, but there is not much I can do about that other than point out he was wrong.
Today The Spectator, who also did not bother to check before committing to print, ran a report making all sorts of claims about TB, GB and Peter M in relation to the Iraq inquiry. It is up to them if they want to do or say anything about those claims. But amid it all there was a statement – as in statement of fact – that I prevailed upon Lord Butler to water down the most important sections of his report on intelligence about Iraq.
Put to one side that this may be defamatory of Lord Butler in its suggestion that he allowed such prevailing to make him change his report. It is certainly defamatory of me in suggesting I tried. And it is totally untrue.
I left Downing Street in 2003, a year before his report was commissioned. Though I continued to keep in touch with the PM, I played no part in the Butler Report at all, at any stage. I did not discuss it with Lord Butler or any of his committee, to which I was not a witness. I did not see the report in advance of publication.
I think the allegation that I, as a former government employee, sought improperly to influence the content of such an important report, is a serious allegation to make and there is no substantiation for it.
I called the editor Matthew D’Ancona to complain this morning, after it was drawn to my attention. He checked it out with the reporter, John Kampfner, and reported back to me that Kampfner stood by the story and that his source was on the Butler committee.
By now, I had got a lawyer involved. I do not know what discussions Matthew D’Ancona then had with Kampfner but I do know that as I left a conference in Manchester a few hours later, he called to say he accepted Kampfner could not substantiate the story, and agreed to run the apology I had drafted for him in the morning, which runs as follows.
‘In John Kampfner’s article, we stated that Alastair Campbell prevailed upon Lord Butler to tone down important sections of his report on intelligence used in the build up to war in Iraq. We are happy to accept that this is not so, and that Mr Campbell, who left Downing Street in 2003, played no role in relation to the Butler inquiry to which he was not a witness. We apologise to him for our error and have agreed to make a donation to the fund he has established for Leukaemia Research in honour of Henry Hodge.’
My lawyer has since been on saying I should have got far more out of them, as it was a serious libel. But I am glad Matthew D’Ancona sorted it all out speedily, and suggest Kampfner and others minded to print what they might want to believe to be true do a little more checking first.
To any other journalists who feel they may have libelled me in relation to this or any other agenda-driven nonsense, please feel free to visit www.justgiving.com/alastaircampbell