Gloves Off in Village that Wants Answers on Death

SOUTHMOOR is one of those English country villages which fits the description tranquil like a glove. Yesterday, the gloves were off.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Downing Street spokesman Alastair Campbell were top of the list of those who the villagers wanted to cross-examine over the death of one of their own – David Kelly, known by most as Dai because of his Welsh background.

Eileen Gamble, who knew Kelly since he and his wife, Jan, first arrived in the Oxfordshire community 20 years ago, said she was furious at the pressure the quiet civil servant had been put under after coming forward to say he thought he might be the BBC’s mole.

“I think they picked on him,” she said.

“I’m very angry and I think they have killed him as I think most of the village do.

“The awful grilling he went through before the Commons committee, I think that was wicked. It’s time Campbell went and I think Blair should follow him, although it won’t bring Dai back.”

Before the Foreign Affairs Committee, Davis’ hands could be seen shaking and the terrible pressure that he was under was visible.

“Somebody is trying to make it look like the government were right to go to war in Iraq,” Gamble added.

“They’ve got to find some excuse to make it right to have gone to war. Tony Blair has a lot to answer for. If I had him here I would grill him and make him squirm, going round doing that to ordinary people like Dai.”

She said no one in the village could believe that Kelly had actually killed himself.

“He was a real family man. He was a very private person but he would often give me a lift into Oxford if I was waiting for the bus. He was a very friendly and pleasant man.”

Gamble said that last Wednesday night, the day before Kelly went missing, his wife had been due to attend a village history society meeting but phoned to say she couldn’t make it as they were going to Cornwall.

However, the Kellys’ plan to get away from the fuss in London never came to pass as the following evening Jan Kelly reported her husband missing when he failed to return home.

Villagers yesterday painted the Kelly family as one that was very much part of the local community. Despite her arthritis, Jan played an active part in village life in Southmoor as a member of the historic society and Women’s Institute. She also helped produce the local newsletter.

Kelly himself, when he could drag himself away from his vegetable patch, would often be seen walking from one end of the village to the other to his favourite pub, the Hinds Head, where he was a member of the local cribbage team.

Steve Ward, the landlord, said he had been close to tears when he heard how Kelly, a customer he knew as a friend, had killed himself. “That was so unlike David. He was so sensible and so level-headed and he had a lovely wife and lovely family,” he said.

“He was a great guy. He’d have a laugh and a joke with you. He’d have a giggle, but never anything over the top.”

Ward was visibly angry over Kelly’s death and was among those in the village who were suspicious of Blair’s role in the affair.

“I hope Tony Blair can live with this on his conscience,” he said. “If this is what the government can do to a straightforward honest member of the public, then I really don’t know. Somebody, somewhere was responsible for his death.

“But I don’t think we will ever get to the bottom of this, we won’t be allowed to.

“I hope to God this brings Tony Blair down and brings an end to this bloody government spin. Whoever has driven David to do this, I hope it stays on their consciences for the rest of their lives.”

Just along the road from the Kelly household lives Leslie Cowan, a 76-year-old retired engineer who now edits the local newsletter. The KBS News, as it is known, is run by an editorial committee that includes Jan Kelly.

Under its constitution, it is not allowed to get involved in any political or religious issues. But this week’s editorial will demand the truth about the circumstances that led to Kelly’s death. It will say that truth and honesty were the basic disciplines of scientists such as Kelly.

“We believe that Dr Kelly knew what was true in regard to the Iraq situation but we don’t know what that truth was or is,” the newsletter will say. “What we do know – what history teaches us – is that truth is not always well liked and those who stand up for it are frequently not well treated. Now it has brought tragedy and dismay to our village.”

Yesterday, the woodland fringe where Kelly’s body was found was still cordoned off as police forensics teams went about their work.

The hedge-bounded path leading up towards Harrowdown Hill had returned to the gentle buzz of hoverflies and the sound of songbirds.

It is a popular walkway for those seeking to escape from modern pressures.

One dog walker said: “It is one of those places that feels more isolated than it is. You’re only ten miles from Oxford, but it feels like 50.

“It’s one of the those places where you can enjoy the peace of the world.”