David Kelly, the government weapons expert, predicted that he would be “found dead in the woods” if Iraq was invaded, months before his apparent suicide, the Hutton Inquiry heard today.
The weapons inspector slashed his wrist in Oxfordshire woodlands after being revealed as the source for BBC claims that the Government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been “sexed up” in the run-up to war.
Foreign Office official David Broucher said Dr Kelly had made what he thought to be the “throwaway” remark in February, when they met in Geneva.
Dr Kelly had expected to remain anonymous after meeting BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, the inquiry had heard earlier.
He had publicly maintained that the Ministry of Defence had been “quite good” when he revealed he had briefed Mr Gilligan. But privately the weapons expert told a trusted contact: “I have been through the wringer.”
Dr Kelly told Sunday Times journalist Nick Rufford, shortly after hearing from the MoD that he would be named in the next day’s papers: “I am a bit shocked, I was told it would all be confidential.”
Mr Broucher told the inquiry Dr Kelly had told him that continued inspections “properly carried out would give a degree of certainty about compliance” with UN disarmament demands.
“He said he had tried to reassure them that if they cooperated with the weapons inspections, they had nothing to fear,” Mr Broucher said.
“My impression was that he felt he was in some personal difficulty or embarrassment about this because he felt the invasion might go ahead anyway and somehow it was putting him in a morally ambiguous situation.”
Mr Broucher, the Foreign Office’s ambassador-ranking permanent representative at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said: “As David Kelly was leaving, I said to him ‘what do you think will happen if Iraq is invaded?’.
“His reply was, which at the time I took to be a throwaway remark, he said ‘I will probably be found dead in the woods’.”
Mr Broucher said he had discussed the dossier with Dr Kelly and told the inquiry that it was part of his job to “sell” the dossier to senior officials at the UN, many of whom found it “unconvincing”.
Dr Kelly had defended the dossier, saying there had been a lot of pressure to make it “as robust as possible”.
Mr Broucher said he asked Dr Kelly what would happen if the coalition went to war with Iraq. He told the inquiry: “His reply was, which I took at the time to be a throwaway remark, he said ‘I will probably be found dead in the woods’.”
Mr Broucher added: “I didn’t report it at the time to anyone because I didn’t attribute any particular significance to it.
“I thought he might have meant that he was at risk of being attacked by the Iraqis in some way.”
He heard of the weapons expert’s death while he was on leave in Geneva but said he had not immediately realised the circumstances.
The inquiry saw an e-mail sent by Mr Broucher to Patrick Lamb, deputy head of counter-proliferation at the Foreign Office.
“In a conversation in Geneva which took place in late February, he explained to me that he thought that the weapons inspectors could have a good idea what the Iraqis had built and destroyed,” it read.
The e-mail said Dr Kelly feared that in the event of an invasion it would have appeared that he had “betrayed his contacts, some of whom might be killed as a direct result of his actions.”
The e-mail repeated Dr Kelly’s statement that following on from this “he would probably be found dead in the woods.