LORD HUTTON was confident he had uncovered the truth. In Room 76 of the Royal Courts of Justice, he declared that Britain’s most eminent microbiologist, David Kelly, killed himself by slashing his left wrist with a garden knife after swallowing a batch of painkillers.
The scientist at the heart of the maelstrom over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had found the pressure unbearable. Publicly outed for an illicit conversation with a BBC radio journalist, he was terrified of losing his job and, at 59, he committed suicide. Lord Butler’s conclusions, founded on countless hours of testimony, are clearly solidly based. Yet there are a growing number of people who voice grave doubts over whether this is how Dr Kelly died in an Oxfordshire wood during a summer night last year.
Even before Lord Hutton’s historic judgment, Mai Pederson, an American army intelligence officer and confidante of Dr Kelly, said the scientist would never have taken his own life.
More intriguingly, she explained that he hated all types of pill. He even had trouble swallowing a headache tablet.
Admittedly, Pederson is a shadowy figure who declined to present herself in person to the Hutton Inquiry. Yet her doubts have been endorsed by a number of respected doctors who say David Kelly cannot have died from blood loss or painkiller poisoning, certainly on the evidence presented to the law lord.
A public health consultant at Birmingham University has gone further. Dr Andrew Rouse told the British Medical Journal’s website that a successful suicide by wrist slashing is so rare that the Office of National Statistics does not even list such an act separately as a cause of death.
Now these eminent doctors have been joined by others – among them lawyers, business executives and former intelligence officers – asking for answers to a series of worrying questions.
The Kelly Group, as this body styles itself, has written to the Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, urging that a full inquest into the scientist’s death be held. It was announced this week that Mr Gardiner will decide on this matter after a special hearing later this month.
‘As concerned citizens, including amongst our number a specialist surgeon and diagnostic radiologist, we have closely scrutinised the testimonies given at the Hutton Inquiry,’ the group wrote to him.
‘We consider that neither the police investigation nor the Hutton Inquiry has demonstrated with any degree of rigour that Dr Kelly took his own life.’
‘We contend that the possibility that Dr Kelly’s death was murder dressed up as suicide has not been sufficiently explored. We believe that the death should be treated as suspicious until a full battery of evidence, including independently performed forensic evidence, has proved conclusively otherwise.
So is this the conspiracy theory of over-fertile minds? In pursuit of an answer I painstakingly looked at evidence to the Hutton Inquiry.
I talked to those who insist stones have been left unturned in the quest for truth. My own inquiries have revealed riddles and inconsistencies that, undoubtedly, back up the doctors’ public unease about how Dr Kelly died.
But first we must go back to 3.30pm on Thursday, July 17. when the scientist left his home in the village of Southmoor to take his regular afternoon walk. Nine hours later, at 12.20am, when he had failed to return home, his wife Janice desperately rang Thames Valley Police to report her husband missing.
The next morning, at 9.20am, Dr Kelly’s body was discovered by a border collie named Brock on Harrowdown Hill, a mile from the scientist’s home.
Brock and his owner, 22-year-old Louise Holmes of the Thames Valley Lowland Search Team, were assisting the police in their quest to find Kelly.
With another volunteer, Paul Chapman, they had been trawling the woods for 80 minutes when Brock started barking and ran back to Louise. Unusually, the trained search dog sat on the ground as if alarmed by something. It was left to Louise to walk to the spot where Brock had first began to howl.
She told the Hutton Inquiry that she found the body with the head and shoulders slumped against a tree. Chapman, 15 yards behind, recalled specifically that Dr Kelly was sitting up. ‘His legs were in front of him. His right arm was to the side of him.
His left arm had a lot of blood on it and was bent back in a funny position,’ said Louise, who stood beside the body for a couple of minutes. Crucially, neither she nor Chapman, a Scoutmaster, reported seeing much more blood around the body.
Neither did they mention to the Hutton Inquiry seeing a Sandvig gardening knife, a discarded and somewhat bloodied watch, even an opened Evian water bottle, which were all recorded by police and ambulance paramedics when they arrived half an hour later.
After the grim discovery, Louise rang the police at Abingdon, who promised to send a team of officers immediately. She and Chapman then began walking down the path towards their car. It was at this point that they met three men dressed in civilian clothes who said they were ‘Thames Valley detectives’, one of whom showed his identity card. The volunteer searchers directed the men to the site of the body and went on their way.
From evidence to the Hutton Inquiry and an interview given to a local newspaper by Louise, it is clear that the time was then 9.30am. What happened next is a matter of conjecture.
But what we do know is that the three ‘detectives’ were left alone at the site for 30 minutes before the uniformed police assigned from Abingdon arrived at around 10am. Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman say that they found Dr Kelly’s body propped up against a tree. Yet the Abingdon police contingent insisted to Lord Hutton that they discovered the microbiologist lying flat on his back. All subsequent witnesses gave the same story.
Not only did the body appear to have been moved, but crucially the pruning knife, water bottle and watch were suddenly being mentioned by witnesses at the scene.
At the Hutton Inquiry, Thames Valley detectives said they did not touch Dr Kelly’s body. But the intriguing puzzle does not stop there. Central to the controversy is the small amount of blood found on, or near, Dr Kelly and the question of whether he could have died from his knife wounds.
Paramedic Vanessa Hunt, part of an ambulance team which spent around 15 minutes at Dr Kelly’s side, told the Hutton Inquiry: ‘There was a small patch on his right knee, but no obvious arterial bleeding. There was no spraying of blood or huge blood loss or any obvious loss on his clothing.’
It was this key disclosure that has so worried British doctors, including 63-year-old David Halpin, former consultant in trauma at Torbay Hospital, Devon, and the radiologist Dr Stephen Frost, now based in North Wales.
The doctors contacted the Kelly Group and wrote to a national newspaper. They said: ‘To die from haemorrhage, Dr Kelly would have had to lose about five pints of blood. It is unlikely from his stated injury that he would have lost more than a pint.’
Another medical expert and Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, Dr A Peter Fletcher, added in a letter to the press: ‘Anybody who has seen five pints of blood spurted forcefully out of a severed artery will know that there is one hell of a mess.’
‘The two searchers who found the body did not even notice that Kelly had incised his wrist with a knife.’ A fifth medic, Professor Simon Kay, a plastic surgery consultant at Leeds Teaching Hospital, was even more robust when he entered the Dr Kelly debate.
He said: ‘The popular view that a slit wrist is likely to prove fatal is far wide of the mark. The natural and protective response of a divided artery is to constrict and prevent life-threatening haemorrhage.
‘Ways around this might include lying in a hot bath… but certainly do not include lying in a cold field.’ There are other tantalising questions. Why did David Kelly, a world-class scientist, choose to kill himself with what emerged at the Hutton Inquiry to be a blunt knife? And why did he choose the ulnar artery, deep inside the wrist, which is hard to get at and extremely unlikely to lead to death?
Martin Birnstingl, one of the country’s most respected vascular surgeons, insists it would be virtually impossible for Dr Kelly to die by severing the ulnar artery on the little finger side of his inner wrist. Mr Birnstingl was until recently President of the Vascular Surgical Society of Great Britain and is a former consultant at Barts Hospital, London.
He told the Mail: ‘I have never, in my experience, heard of a case where someone has died after cutting their ulnar artery. And I have seen plenty of suicides.
‘The minute the blood pressure falls, after a few minutes, this artery would stop bleeding. It would spray blood about and make a mess but it would soon cease. ‘Kelly was in the know. He was a scientist. People normally try to slash the radial artery in their wrist, the one which is used to take a pulse. Or if they are really intent on death, they cut the artery in their groin.’
At the very least, it was an extraordinarily painful and uncertain suicide method for the former head of microbiology at the research establishment of Porton Down; a man who was a world authority on toxic substances.
Equally intriguingly, it would have been almost impossible for the right-handed Dr Kelly to have slashed from left to right on his opposite wrist, missing the superficial pulse-taking artery and cutting deep into the ulnar artery.
There is also the matter of the three packs of the painkiller Co-Proxamol found in Dr Kelly’s coat pocket. They are believed to have been taken by him from his arthritic wife’s medical cabinet, although this was never confirmed at the Hutton Inquiry.
And Dr Kelly’s own doctor said he had never prescribed him Co-Proxamol.
When Dr Kelly’s body was found, all but one of the 30 tablets were missing. Could these 29 tablets on their own have been responsible for ending his life?
According to the Hutton Inquiry, they did not. Only a fifth of a tablet was later found, during an autopsy, in Dr Kelly’s stomach.
Moreover, the blood reading of each of the drug’s two components was less than a third of what would normally be found in a fatal over- dose victim.
What then of the scientist’s mental state? As Dr Kelly set out on that last walk, it was clear that he was deeply unhappy. Although Lord Hutton said he was not suffering from any mental problems, the future must have appeared gloomy.
A letter from the Ministry of Defence, found unopened on Dr Kelly’s desk, spoke of a possible disciplinary hearing.
Undoubtedly, he would have been told of its unpleasant contents before its arrival at his home in the days before his death. What must have been going on in Dr Kelly’s head?
His hopes of returning to his beloved Iraq were disappearing fast. Ironically, he had as many enemies there – where he challenged Iraqi scientists with formidable zeal over their weapons’ programmes – as he did in Britain. When Dr Kelly interrogated one British-trained Iraqi woman scientist at the centre of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare efforts, his questioning was so tough that she ran screaming from the room. In Iraq, he was perceived as a tough opponent.
Dr Kelly had himself predicted in jest in only February 2003 that if Iraq was attacked, he might be found ‘dead in the woods’.
Meanwhile, in Whitehall he was being viewed as a somewhat troublesome employee; perhaps a liability in the world of defence intelligence in which he moved.
Dr Kelly was not prepared to cut his media links or be permanently silenced. Was he now viewed as a security risk?
Had his extraordinary and unorthodox friendship with the Egyptian-American Mai Pederson – one that was barely tolerated by the Ministry of Defence — begun to count against him?
Controversially, he had been discussing book projects with Victoria Roddam, an Oxford publisher who, in an e-mail to the scientist only a week before his death, wrote: ‘I think the time is ripe now more than ever for a title which addresses the relationship between Government policy and war – I’m sure you would agree?’ She seemed to expect a positive response.
There were other puzzles, too. Immediately the news of his suicide broke, Dr Kelly’s dental records were discovered to be missing from his personal file at the local surgery.
His woman dentist, according to the Hutton Inquiry, reported the mystery to police after finding an unlocked window at the surgery.
Yet – mysteriously – two days later the records reappeared back at the surgery in Dr Kelly’s buff file. Their temporary disappearance so concerned the police that a DNA test was run on Dr Kelly’s body to ensure it was really him.
Among the bundles of evidence submitted to the Hutton Inquiry is also an intriguing secret document marked: ‘Not for Release. Police Information Only’
The document, according to an audit of evidence in the public domain, records a tactical support operation by Thames Valley Police during what it terms a ‘major incident’ on July 17 and July 18 of last year when Dr Kelly was missing. It was called Operation Mason.
Thames Valley Police has told the Daily Mail that the Operation Mason file details their investigation into the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly’s death.
The audit shows that Operation Mason ended at 9.30am on July 18 as the two searchers with the dog Brock walked away from Dr Kelly’s body to meet, by chance, the three detectives.
But more extraordinary was the time Operation Mason is said to have started: at 2.30pm on July 17. Bizarrely, that is exactly one hour before Dr Kelly set out on his final walk. And nearly ten hours before his distressed wife rang the police to sound the alert over her missing husband.
The contents of the Mason file remain strictly confidential.
Courtesy Rowena Thursby
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