'I knew if I didn't get back to work I would be defined by Hutton' - Press Gazette

'I knew if I didn't get back to work I would be defined by Hutton'

"Whether or not at some time in the future the report on which the 45-minutes' claim was based is shown to be unreliable, the allegation reported by Mr Gilligan on 29 May 2003 that the Government probably knew that the 45-minutes' claim was wrong before the Government decided to put it in the dossier, was an allegation which was unfounded." Hutton Report, January 2004

Vilified by the press, hated in government and the poster-boy for the failings of journalism and the BBC, few in the journalism industry thought Andrew Gilligan's career would go much further after the Hutton Report.

But this month he completed an extraordinary career comeback when he picked up the top prize of journalist of the year at the British Press Awards for a doggedly determined, old-fashioned investigation into the inner-workings of London Mayor Ken Livingstone's office.

'I was actually stunned for about 24 hours. Everyone probably says this but I just couldn't take it in. I had to go out and walk around,' he says.

Sprawling back on a sofa in his home in Greenwich, a now more relaxed Gilligan says his biggest struggle post-Hutton was simply regaining confidence after being publically written-off, even by friends and former colleagues in the press.

'This award is the final rehabilitation. Four years ago I was not sure whether I would have any sort of future in journalism and now I'm journalist of the year. It's gratifying."

The Hutton Report found serious failings in Gilligan's now infamous 6.07am un-scripted two-way report on the 29 May, 2003 edition of Radio 4's Today programme, and in a subsequent Mail on Sunday article.

Lord Hutton found that despite the quality of Gilligan's source – later identified as senior Government weapons expert Dr David Kelly, who later killed himself – he had not uncovered enough evidence to support his claim that the Government had knowingly 'sexed up' the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Gilligan has admitted mistakes – he took sparse notes and admits the phrasing of his report was misleading – but remains convinced he was substantially right.

'Most people, both in the profession and in the country, think I was broadly right over the Iraq dossier story. But you will still get people in the profession saying, 'there's something faintly suspicious about him', but I think that has been demolished now because I have been voted the top award by my own peers.'

After the forced resignation of BBC director general Greg Dyke in January 2004, Gilligan – then a BBC defence correspondent – feared he would be sidelined and resigned too: 'I just didn't want to be the highest-paid traffic reporter in the history of Radio Norfolk. So I left.

'My confidence was gone, to be honest. I had been absolutely roasted [in the press] for six months and I didn't know whether I could get back to doing the job. I knew that if I didn't get off my arse and get back working I would be defined by this.

'I was very grateful to Veronica [Wadley, Evening Standard editor]; she believed in me before it was fashionable to do so and employed me before most people thought I was right.'

After the publication of the Hutton Report, Gilligan was pilloried in some quarters as the villain of the story. The Sun printed a front page story with his picture headlined: 'You Rat'. He says: 'I don't think many people have been both at the giving end and the receiving end. I've seen it from both ends and it's not a particularly pretty sight.'

Gilligan adds he 'never cared in the slightest' about the Sun front page and dismisses the News International title as one that 'nobody I know reads', but says his treatment in its sister title The Times stung more.

Referring to several stories in The Times that questioned his integrity, mostly written by a former colleague and friend, he said: 'I was upset by The Times; it's a serious paper read by serious people have got a fairly thick skin but that would upset anyone.'

But Gilligan said he had sympathy for the Sky News reporter stationed outside his house one wintry day to confirm live on TV whether or not he was at home. Watching while on holiday at the other end of the country, he says the whole episode seemed bizarre.

On the awards night, at Mayfair's Grosvenor House hotel, Gilligan half-jokingly dedicated his trophy to 'the people who have got me here – Ken and Alastair [Livingstone and Campbell]".

He says he can understand how negative media coverage can 'twist someone like Campbell and bend them out of shape. He had it for 10 years and I only had it for six months. You could feel yourself becoming more defensive – a lot of my friends are journalists so I couldn't really talk openly to them, only to my closest friends.'

Despite his 'rehabilitation' at the British Press Awards, he believes there those within the BBC who still doubt his credibility. Gilligan still feels he was let down over Hutton by his then Today editor Kevin Marsh – now editor of the BBC college of journalism.

While 'most people at the BBC behaved very well', he feels that Marsh did not. 'I am profoundly glad that I am journalist of the year and he is deputy director of editorial training. It seems a fitting reward, I'm very glad to see he has been sidelined.'

Gilligan believes that the controversy surrounding him at the time of Hutton was confined to the newsrooms and studios of London rather than among the public at large.

In the aftermath of Hutton, taxi drivers and waiters wouldn't take his cash, as a sign of their support, he says.

'What it has taught me is something politicians could usefully learn – it didn't make any difference to how the public saw me. Opinion polls showed that News of the World and Sun readers backed me and opposed the Government in equal measure to readers of The Guardian and The Independent.'

Gilligan argues that while parts of the media could 'exaggerate reality' over Hutton, 'they can't create this reality where everything the Government did was perfect and everything I did was a disaster'.

Talking of his long-running investigation into the office of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Gilligan says: 'Hopefully, after the Mayoral election, that will all be over and I won't have to write about him ever again.'

Gilligan spent two months investigating the affairs of the London Development Agency, the grant-making subsidiary controlled by Livingstone's then race adviser Lee Jasper, before the first article was published in the Evening Standard on 5 December. He has written about little else since. Almost three months after Gilligan's first story appeared Jasper resigned.

Gilligan makes no secret of his dislike of Livingstone – a sentiment reciprocated by the mayor, who has called for Gilligan to be sacked. Does he see it as his job to get Ken out of office? 'No, it's the voters','he says immediately.

'This isn't something the paper has ordered me to do, this is something I want to do because I genuinely think Ken is unfit for office and it's my responsibility to point that out.

'I also think it's just an interesting story: here we have a mayor who has operated largely without scrutiny for years, who as a result believes in his own propaganda. And it's a tremendous goldmine, that place [City Hall]. There are stories waiting around to be picked up."

Gilligan seems surprised at how easily much of his evidence for stories about City Hall came to light. Regarding the articles about mishandling funds and inappropriate emails which led to the resignation of Lee Jasper resigning, he says: 'It was in fairly plain view – the payments to those companies are all a matter of public record if you know where to look and you sit there with your calculator and add it all up. It's a hugely underrated thing to do."

It has emerged in Andrew Hosken's biography of Livingstone, Ken: The Fall and Rise of Ken Livingstone, that the Jasper emails, in which he said he would like to 'honey glaze'the head of a charity which had received LDA funding, were forwarded to Gilligan by a City Hall employee. Jasper's email password had apparently been left on a piece of paper stuck to his computer.

Looking back on his 'dodgy dossier'story, Gilligan reflects that he has learned lessons from it and would, with the benefit of hindsight, have done things differently. But he also reflects that the Today broadcast 'probably didn't go far enough'given the human catastrophe in Iraq of the past four years.

'I was very much influenced by what happened to me over the David Kelly story. I came to the conclusion that in future if I did anything big, single anonymous sources probably aren't enough. Kelly was a very good source and he was right… in the end it wasn't strong enough to base a story on.

'But the campaign against Livingstone was copper-bottomed. It was Companies House records, official GLA documents, whistleblowers – mostly on the record."

Gilligan says the most important values for journalists to have are truthfulness and fairness. He says that prior to publishing his first LDA story he sent Livingstone's office a list of 100 questions and gave them six days to respond.

They did not get back to him but put out a press release denying his claims. Livingstone has consistently denied any wrongdoing while Jasper claimed he was the victim of a 'racist'and 'relentless media campaign". Gilligan says he knew how the mayor would respond, and accordingly held back some of his allegations for future editions.

'I was amazed by quite how much he played into his opponents' hands. Any normal politician would have said 'Well, I'm sure these allegations are wrong but you can never be too careful'…it would have been over in a week. But he dragged it on for months.

'His response to it was more damaging than the allegation… it was a complete refusal to be held to account. He responded to perfectly legitimate and fair questions with abuse and insults."

Gilligan may claim to have been truthful and fair but he has not, by his own admission, been balanced and says journalists don't always need to be. Balance is, he says, 'over-rated."

' It isn't always possible to say where the truth lies, but it often is. It's a cop-out to say 'He says this, she says that, the Lib Dems say they're both wrong, one thing is certain: only time will tell. Andrew Gilligan, BBC News, Westminster'. That's wrong because it gives the reader no idea of what's actually happening. Your job is to tell the truth; you're supposed to work for the readers.

'Sometimes it's not possible to tell the truth because it is genuinely disputed and there are conflicting views. We don't really know what the truth is on crime, for instance.

'The problem of just reporting the sides is that inevitably the one with the loudest voice gets the most play and that's often government or corporate bullies."

In recent years the Mayor of London has publicly feuded with the Evening Standard. He was suspended for four weeks in 2006 after comparing Jewish Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold to a Nazi concentration camp guard when he approached Livingstone as he left a party at City Hall in 2005.

But Gilligan says the idea that he and Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley 'sit in a bunker every morning'and she says 'today you must destroy Ken Livingstone'is wide of the mark.

'The thing about the Standard is that it knows him, more than any other media organisation really. It has to deal with him day in, day out and that's why it takes such a low view of him.

'It's not that we are the London version of the Daily Mail… Actually, a lot of people on the Evening Standard resent that; we're very different from them editorially. We're much more liberal and always have been. We actually backed him [in 2000] in a very cautious and qualified way."

Is the Evening Standard's anti-Livingstone coverage essentially a Johnson campaign? After all, after he left the BBC, Gilligan worked as a freelance defence correspondent for The Spectator under then-editor Johnson.

'I like Boris, I make no secret of that. I thought it was brave of him to stand for mayor at a time when the Tories were in big trouble and it looked like Ken was invincible.

'He has told lies about his relationships but he hasn't told lies about public policy matters as far as I can tell. We have looked at him, we haven't ignored him. I think he will be fine as Mayor."

So will there be a more positive relationship between the Evening Standard, Gilligan and the Mayor of London if Johnson wins? 'To be honest, I should think he will end up hating me just as much as Ken does."