Those implicated in the 2003 demise of Dr David Kelly include the Iraqi secret service, the French secret service, and not least, Kelly himself. Whatever the truth about his death, he was as much a victim of the war in Iraq as any soldier or civilian killed on the battlefield. The confusion, briefings and counter-briefings that surrounded the days running up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 created a nervousness and state of tension which caused all parties involved to act in unpredictable ways.
During this time the UK government released two dossiers which set out evidence for its belief that Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a real threat to world security: the September 2002 document which stated that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that, crucially, these weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes; and a second, in February 2003, which detailed secret arms networks. A month later the UK had deployed troops in Iraq to secure Hussein’s downfall in spite of vocal protests from the government’s own MPs and many other groups.
On 20 May 2003, BBC Radio’s flagship current affairs programme Today featured a report from its defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, in which he revealed that a senior source at the Ministry of Defence accused a member of the Downing Street press office (later identified as Alastair Campbell) of having “sexed up” the September dossier by inserting the information about the 45-minute deployment. The BBC’s Newsnight correspondent Susan Watts also reported that a “senior official” believed the intelligence services came under heavy political pressure to include the 45-minute claim in its dossier.
The government, enraged by the leak, demanded that Gilligan reveal his source, and weeks of accusation and counter-accusation began, with the BBC defending Gilligan and the anonymity of his source and the government’s press machine attempting to discredit the story. Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s director of news, described the attacks as “an unprecedented level of pressure from Downing Street”. Both Gilligan and Campbell were asked to appear before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (FAC) to explain their actions. The media frenzy must have worried Dr Kelly, who wrote to his line manager at the ministry admitting he had met Gilligan on May 22 and could have been one of the sources for his story. After another ten days of increasing pressure to reveal the identity of the source, the MoD then identified Kelly indirectly by pointedly refusing to deny he was involved when a list of possible sources was read out at a press conference, although Kelly himself was not informed his name was being released to the press.
On 15 and 16 July Dr Kelly sat in front of the FAC facing allegations that it was he who had been the source of the Gilligan story. He appeared deeply uncomfortable at being the centre of so much public attention, and spoke so softly that air-conditioning fans had to be turned off so the committee members could hear what he was saying. Despite much probing, Kelly maintained that, although he had spoken to Gilligan, he had not been his primary source. Kelly said the controversial point about the 45-minute deployment claim being added by Alastair Campbell could not have come from him as he had no part in the actual compilation of the dossier, but had merely presented information for possible inclusion, and thus had not been not party to the decisions by the Joint Intelligence Committee, who had produced the document.
At the end of the two days the FAC had concluded that Kelly was “most unlikely” to be the source of the “sexed-up” claim. Kelly, too, had relaxed, and was laughing and joking with the committee members. The following day, 17 July, he left his home at 3 p.m., telling his wife he was going for his usual afternoon walk. He did not return. At 11.45 p.m. his family contacted the police and reported him missing. He was found at 9.20 the next morning by two search volunteers in woods on Harrowdown Hill, about a mile and a half (2.5km) from his home. The police did not confirm the body as his until 19 July, and then stated that they believed he had committed suicide by taking the powerful painkiller co-proxamol and then cutting his left wrist. A day later, after talking to his family, the BBC issued a statement naming Dr Kelly as the source of both Gilligan’s and Watts’s reports.
In the light of the previous train of events and unusual vigour with which the government had pursued Andrew Gilligan and his source, it seems understandable that an independent inquiry into the whole affair was announced as the best way of uncovering the truth surrounding Kelly’s death and the lingering accusation that Downing Street had tampered with intelligence reports. Lord Hutton was appointed to head the inquiry, and his inquiry heard several months’ worth of evidence from experts, Kelly’s friends and family, and members of the Cabinet, including Tony Blair. Five months later, after much hype and speculation, Hutton concluded that the government had behaved properly, that the BBC should be heavily criticized for its actions, and that Kelly’s death had been by his own hand. There, it was presumably hoped, is where the whole unfortunate episode would end, but there were some who pointed to inconsistencies in the official version of events.
Many people who had been close to Kelly, professionally and personally, did not believe the suicide story, and others believed his death bore all the hallmarks of a planned assassination. The first to speak publicly of their misgivings were the two paramedics who had attended the scene of Dr Kelly’s death, Paul Bartlett and Vanessa Hunt. Interviewed by Anthony Barnett in the Observer in December 2004, they said they found little or no evidence of the major bleeding that would have taken place if the severed wrist artery had been the cause of death, as stated by the pathologist.
“When somebody cuts an artery, whether accidentally or intentionally, the blood pumps everywhere. I just think it is incredibly unlikely that he died from the wrist wound we saw,” said Hunt.
The paramedics’ views were soon supported by a group of doctors who wrote to the Guardian newspaper, saying they too were deeply unhappy with the official cause of death. The severed ulnar artery, they argued, was too thin to have allowed a major haemorrhage, especially as, out in the open, the blood vessel would have been closed off by surrounding muscle long before Kelly bled to death. David Halpin, a trauma surgeon and one of the authors of the letter, maintains that even the deepest cut in the region of the ulnar artery would not have caused death: “. . . a completely transacted artery retracts immediately and thus stops bleeding, even at a relatively high blood pressure”. The artery itself lies deep in the wrist on the little finger side of the hand, under other nerves and tendons, and cannot be accidentally slashed like the more superficial radial artery.
Following the suicide theory would mean believing Kelly had managed to cut down deep into his own wrist to locate and cut the ulnar artery . . . with a blunt pruning knife. The physicians also questioned the toxicology results, pointing out that the concentration of the drug co-proxamol in Kelly’s blood was not high enough to have killed him, being only a third of a fatal dose. Kelly’s stomach was virtually empty on examination, containing the equivalent of a fifth of one tablet, suggesting that, if he did swallow the cited 29 tablets, he had regurgitated most of them before the drug could be absorbed.
As suicides go, this was a pretty amateur affair, considering Kelly must have had an intimate knowledge of human biology in his work as a microbiologist and authority on biological weapons. He was the only person to die using these methods in the whole of 2003. Co-proxamol is often used in suicide attempts but most commonly in conjunction with alcohol. Severing the ulnar artery does not automatically lead to a fatal loss of blood. Kelly is known to have had an aversion to swallowing tablets. If his suicide was premeditated, why bring a small blunt concave-edged knife to do a tricky slicing job, along with the tablets? And if it was a spontaneous act, why did he bring 30 painkilling tablets with him on his daily constitutional?
As if there were not enough mystery surrounding the suicide, it became apparent during the Hutton Inquiry that there were other major discrepancies. The volunteers who found Dr Kelly’s body said he was sitting or slumped against a tree when they discovered him, but in his evidence DC Coe of the Thames Valley Police stated Kelly was flat on his back and away from the tree. The volunteers swore that the knife, an opened bottle of Evian and a watch were not present when they were there, but these items had appeared next to the body by the time DC Coe left the scene.
As any viewer of TV crime will know, most solved cases are so because of the work of the forensics people, but in this case there was surprisingly little forensic evidence forthcoming. For instance, whose fingerprints were on the knife? Was any foreign DNA detected in the blood samples? Was the watch found beside Dr Kelly broken or intact, and, if broken, what time did it show? What were the last calls made to him on his mobile phone? None of these questions was asked during the inquiry, and no answers were volunteered.
In March 2005, Lib Dem MP Norman Baker resigned his front bench job expressly to investigate the circumstances surrounding Kelly’s death. A year later he published his findings on his own website and contributed to a BBC TV programme, Conspiracy Files, which focused on Kelly. Baker voiced his serious doubts over the conclusion of the inquiry, not only on the basis of the medical evidence and the suicide verdict but also concerning the “irregularities in the actions of the coroner”, the choice of pathologist, the actions of the police at the beginning of the investigation, and why Lord Hutton, in particular, was picked to head the inquiry. Baker questions why the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, decided the inquiry should not be held under the usual rules, so that witnesses could not be subpoenaed, nor did they have to give evidence under oath, making the whole procedure less rigorous than a standard coroner inquest.
Even more bizarrely, the Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, pre-empted the findings of the inquiry by issuing a full death certificate on 18 August, while Hutton’s investigation was still in its early stages, in spite of rules stating that at most only an interim certificate should be issued while an inquest is in adjournment. Baker doesn’t think much of the appointed pathologist either, describing the medical evidence presented by him to the inquiry as “incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate”.
As for the conduct of the police force, the most puzzling fact that has come to light has been that Operation Mason, as it was named, began at 2.30 p.m. on 17 July, about nine hours before Dr Kelly’s family reported him missing and half an hour before he left his home to go for his walk. Quite how the police knew what was going to happen, they are not willing to divulge. Nor are they willing to say why they felt it necessary to erect a 45-foot-high (15.7m) antenna in the Kellys’ garden, or turn Mrs Kelly out of her home in the middle of the night for some considerable time while a search dog was put through the house. According to Baker, one of the most senior police officers in the country, on being consulted, was at a loss as to why either action would have been required. Norman Baker reserves particular scepticism for the choice of Lord Hutton to head the inquiry and the part Tony Blair played in the decision.
In spite of being on a jet somewhere between Washington and Tokyo when formally advised of Dr Kelly’s death, Blair decided on an inquiry and appointed Lord Brian Hutton as its head even before the journey was over. Parliament, perhaps rather conveniently, had adjourned for the summer, and the appointment was made on the advice of Lord Falconer and, Baker suspects, Peter Mandelson. The man they chose had no experience of chairing any other public inquiry but, during his distinguished career, plenty of history of upholding the views of the government of the day. It was highly unlikely, therefore, that the Hutton Inquiry was going to answer such sticky questions as why a highly respected scientist chose to take his life in quite such an unconventional way, days after being embroiled in a political scandal that was potentially deeply damaging to the government. Kelly had been deeply upset by being thrust into the media spotlight and, no doubt, bewildered by the the MoD’s decision to leak his name to the press. However, he was also cheerful and joky with members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee the day before his death, and had made plans to fly to Iraq the following week; one of his daughters was looking forward to her impending wedding day. Most importantly, perhaps, he was a practising member of the Baha’i faith, which forbids the act of suicide.
An email to a New York journalist, Judith Miller, on the morning of 17 July suggests that Dr Kelly realized that there was something worrying going on behind the soundbites and political posturing: David, I heard from another member of your fan club that things went well for you today. Hope it’s true. (Original message sent by Judith Miller, 16 July 00.30) I will wait until the end of the week before judging – many dark actors playing games. Thanks for your support. I appreciate your friendship at this time. (Dr Kelly’s reply, sent 17 July 11.18) Conspiracy theorists believe Kelly had been labelled a loose cannon and as such a threat to the stability of the government. If Britain lost Blair, Europe lost an important ally in its struggle for greater political and economic union. Michael Shrimpton, a barrister and intelligence services expert who also acted for the Kelly Investigation Group, claimed he was told Kelly had been assassinated. Speaking in an interview with Canadian broadcaster Alex Jones in 2004 he said: “Within 48 hours of the murder I was contacted by a British Intelligence officer who told me [Kelly had] been murdered . . . now that source told me he’d done some digging and discovered that, he didn’t name names, but he discovered that it had been known in Whitehall prior to 17 July that David Kelly was going to be taken down.”
Shrimpton went on to explain that clever governments get the secret services of their allies to do their dirty work for them, and that Kelly’s death bore all the hallmarks of a job by the DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure), the French equivalent of MI6. The tablets found in Kelly’s pocket would have been a cover; he would actually have been killed by a lethal injection of dextropropoxythene, the active ingredient of co-proxamol, and the muscle relaxant succinylcholine, “a favourite method” of murder by intelligence services, with his wrist clumsily cut to disguise the needle’s puncture mark. Shrimpton said the assassination team would most likely have been recruited from Iraqis living in Damascus, to disguise French involvement, and then its members killed after the event to ensure absolute secrecy.
There are others, such as UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel, who claim it was the Iraqis themselves who killed Dr Kelly in revenge for all the trouble he’d brought upon Saddam Hussein’s regime through his work. This seems far-fetched. Although Kelly had said he supported the invasion of Iraq, he had not been the author of the 45-minute claim which had precipitated military action. And he had only recently inspected trailers, claimed to be bio-weapons laboratories, and declared them to be no such thing. More hard-line conspiracy theorists maintain Dr Kelly’s death was yet another in a suspicious pattern of untimely deaths among the world’s leading microbiologists, who are being systematically bumped off for reasons that remain unclear. However weird the theories, Kelly’s death was not properly investigated.
The glaring omissions and conflicts of evidence; the choice of an inquiry, headed by a judge rather than a coroner, with terms drawn up at the outset by the government; the continuing unease of expert doctors and political figures, willing to risk their own reputations to publicize their misgivings – all this suggests there is far more to this event than the government is willing to be open about. Given that the present government would still have much to lose should it be revealed that Kelly’s death was unlawful, it is likely to be a long time before all the factors surrounding this case reach the light of day.
20 year barman. Re-educated as an I.T. professional, website creator, I.T teacher, digital media management & marketing professional. Studied accountancy, taxation, business management & law. Founder of UnitedPeople political party – click here. Previously the first National Chairman of Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) & founder of the Louth branch of DDI. Author. Regular contributor to social media. TV & radio guest experiences. Appeared in the Oireachtas & Dublin Highcourts to defend the rights of citizens along with exposing many wrongs. Consistently seeks greater democracy & accountability from all elected levels of Ireland. Currently writing two books, non-fiction “Life Behind Bars” & “Better Tomorrows“.