Was the Hutton Inquiry into David Kelly’s death just part of the cover-up?

Norman Baker is one of Westminster’s most respected MPs.

In a major new book, he reveals the results of his year-long investigation into the death of weapons inspector David Kelly and why he believes the scientist was murdered after exposing Tony Blair’s lies over Iraq.

Here, he claims the Hutton Inquiry into Kelly’s death was just part of the cover-up…

Even before I published the results of my investigation into the death of David Kelly, I knew what the reaction of senior politicians and commentators would be.

Not another conspiracy theory!” they always cry when confronted with anything that challenges the orthodox explanation of events.

“Such things don’t happen in Britain.”

Of course not. After all, it’s not as though a Bulgarian dissident could be murdered at a London bus stop with a ricin-tipped umbrella, an Italian with close links to the Vatican be left hanging from Blackfriars Bridge, or a Russian dissident be poisoned with radioactive – polonium-210 at a sushi bar in Piccadilly, is it?

Those who seek to discredit my year-long inquiry into Dr Kelly’s death, and my belief that he was murdered, will no doubt point to the findings of the Hutton Inquiry.

Costing £1.68million and hearing evidence from nearly 100 witnesses — from members of Dr Kelly’s family to Tony Blair — this confirmed the official view that the scientist’s death was suicide.

Yet, as we will see, the truth was hardly like to come out in this travesty of a process.

It was highly unconventional — not least in the way it was instigated.

At the time the body of the UK’s leading weapons inspector was found in a wood on Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire on the morning of July 18, 2003, the Prime Minister was aboard an aeroplane en route from Washington to Tokyo.

Yet by the time he touched down in Japan, he had already announced there would be a inquiry into the circumstances of the death, led by Lord Hutton, formerly Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

This, no doubt, took the heat out of a very difficult situation for Mr Blair but, even so, the speed of the appointment startled many. Government wheels normally grind slowly.

According to journalists accompanying the then Prime Minister, he turned for advice during the flight to two of his closest allies: Charlie Falconer, the recently appointed Lord Chancellor, and his old Svengali, Peter Mandelson.

Mr Mandelson would certainly have been well acquainted with Lord Hutton from his stint as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

And yet when I tabled a Parliamentary question about his involvement in the appointment, I was told simply: “Mr Peter Mandelson played no part.”

As this was completely at odds with the recollections of a number of journalists I had spoken to, I requested the background material used to draft this answer.

Noticeably absent from this material was any record of Mr Mandelson having been contacted to ask him for his recollections.

So it is unclear how the answer that he “played no part” could be quite so definitive.

Whoever was behind the decision, Brian Hutton was the ideal appointment for those looking to help the Prime Minister out of a dangerous spot.

He had only ever chaired one public inquiry — into the diversion of a river — but in his career as a judge he had always shown himself supportive of the forces of law and order and sympathetic towards the authorities.

On his appointment, he said that the Government had promised him “full cooperation”. But the hearing was compromised from the start.

Unlike a full statutory inquiry — the setting up of which would have required Parliamentary debate, something the Government was keen to avoid — Lord Hutton’s inquiry had no formal powers.

The Lord Chancellor argued that its informal nature would give Lord Hutton “flexibility of form” in conducting the inquiry as he felt appropriate.

That might better be described as the abandonment of procedures and safeguards essential in establishing the truth.

Witnesses could not be compelled to attend, and — since no one was required to give evidence under oath — they could not be found guilty of perjury if they lied.

Moreover, Lord Hutton had sole control over which witnesses were called, what documents were or were not produced and, to a large extent, what questions were asked or left unasked.

This was all the more alarming since Lord Hutton’s inquiry took the place of a properly constituted coroner’s inquest.

What did Nicholas Gardiner, the independent coroner in whose jurisdiction Dr Kelly’s body was found, think of this very unusual departure? Not much, the evidence suggests.

Mr Gardiner had opened an inquest into Dr Kelly’s death on Monday, July 21 — three days after the body was found.

Subsequently he was told by the Lord Chancellor that it should be adjourned to “prevent duplication” because Lord Hutton would now be looking into the matter, effectively supplanting him.

Clearly concerned about the informal status of the Hutton inquiry, Mr Gardiner wrote to the Lord Chancellor on August 6, suggesting that he might continue with his own inquest.

His letter, which I have seen, makes plain that he was unhappy at the way he was being marginalised.

“As you will know a coroner has power to compel the attendance of witnesses. There are no such powers attached to a public inquiry.

“If I do adjourn, I would be unable to resume, if at all, until after the public inquiry has been concluded and thus would not be in a position to assist Lord Hutton.”

This was indeed the position, but it seems not to have worried Lord Hutton, who throughout his inquiry appeared unconcerned about what Mr Gardiner might or might not be doing or thinking.

Mr Gardiner’s protests seem not to have been well received by the Lord Chancellor, who wrote back in blunt terms, insisting that he adjourn the inquest and not resume unless “an exceptional reason” arose.

It was reluctantly agreed that Mr Gardiner could first take evidence from the pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt and the forensic analyst Alex Allan, but he was asked to “keep the proceedings as short as possible” and take evidence in writing “so far as the Coroners’ Rules allow”.

The coroner was, it seemed, being bundled off the case.

More to the point, he was effectively being asked to cut corners in his own procedures.

Such pressure from a Government minister on a coroner is highly unusual.
On the basis of this truncated inquest, the coroner concluded that Dr Kelly had committed suicide by slitting his wrist and taking an overdose of coproxamol painkillers.

It is surely troubling that such a conclusion could have been based on this rushed process — especially as Alex Allan would later tell the Hutton Inquiry that Dr Kelly did not have enough coproxamol in his body to kill him.

This meant that one of only two witnesses at this peculiar inquest would presumably disagree with the contents of the death certificate that arose from it.

As for Dr Hunt, his appointment as pathologist was curious from the outset.

Given that this was an extremely high-profile death commanding front-page headlines, Mr Gardiner might have been forgiven for employing the most experienced person he could find.

Instead he chose Dr Hunt, who had been on the Home Office’s register of approved forensic pathologists for only two years. And whatever assessment of the cause of death he gave when the coroner originally opened his inquest on July 21, he clearly had a change of heart in the days that followed.

In his letter of August 6 to the Lord Chancellor, Mr Gardiner says that “the preliminary cause of death given at the opening of the inquest no longer represents the final view of the pathologist”.

We are not subsequently told in what way the pathologist had changed his mind.

Nor was Dr Hunt asked about this when he appeared before the Hutton Inquiry the following month.

Worryingly, the pathologist was not subject to any cross-examination, despite the curious aspects of the case.

Nothing is mentioned about the onset of rigor mortis, for example, though this is surely a key indicator for ascertaining time of death.

Nor do we learn whether a full battery of tests were done on the lungs, the blood, the heart or the soil — all vital in determining whether Dr Kelly might have been over-powered and poisoned, or whether he really could have bled to death after cutting his wrist, given the small amount of blood at the scene.

On that last question, it would surely have been helpful to know how much blood was left in Dr Kelly’s body — but Dr Hunt’s report does not even provide a measure of this.

These are all crucial pieces of forensic evidence that are simply missing.

Why were they not produced, and why did neither Lord Hutton nor James Dingemans, the inquiry QC, seek to elicit them?

And why, when Dr Hunt himself made interesting observations were they not followed through, but instead left hanging in the air?

At one point, for instance, he was asked if there were any signs of a third-party involvement in Dr Kelly’s death.

His answer was intriguing. “The features are quite typical, I would say, of self-inflicted injury, if one ignores all the other features of the case.”

What were these other “features”?

We do not know because Dr Hunt was not asked. Instead, Mr Dingemans asked him if there was anything further he would like to say on the circumstances leading to Dr Kelly’s death.

“Nothing I could say as a pathologist, no,” he replied.

Again, it was an enigmatic answer. Did no one think to ask him what he meant by this remark?

If Dr Kelly’s death was indeed murder, covered up to resemble suicide, not many need have known the truth.

But some in authority may have suspected.

Very much against etiquette, Dr Hunt broke ranks on Channel 4 News in March 2004 to call for the coroner’s inquest to be reopened.

It is possible to surmise that perhaps Lord Hutton was told the truth, and was asked to go along with the cover story for the sake of the country, although there is, of course, no evidence to this effect.

Certainly, I challenge anyone to say that the suicide verdict was settled “beyond reasonable doubt” on the basis of the evidence presented to Lord Hutton’s inquiry.

On the contrary, the most sensational death of the year, and one of the most politically sensitive deaths in recent British history, was investigated to a less rigorous standard than would have been applied to any sudden or violent death subject to a normal inquest.

Lord Hutton himself does not accept that criticism.

Judges rarely comment on cases over which they have presided, but — perhaps stung by criticism of his performance — Lord Hutton has done so.

In a letter to me, he asserted: “You are under the misapprehension that my inquiry was not a rigorous investigation into the cause of Dr Kelly’s death and into the question whether it was suicide or murder.

“The question was fully and thoroughly investigated.”

Yet this assurance is brought into significant doubt by Lord Hutton’s own hitherto little-noticed contribution to a highly specialist legal publication, The Inner Temple Yearbook for 2004/5.

In it, he wrote: “At the outset of my inquiry it appeared to me that a substantial number of the basic facts in the train of events which led to the tragic death of Dr Kelly were already apparent from reports in the press and other parts of the media.

“Therefore I thought that there would be little serious dispute as to the background facts… I thought that unnecessary time could be taken up by cross-examination on matters which were not directly relevant.”

In other words, Lord Hutton appears, to a large degree, to have made up his mind in advance.

This perhaps explains why so many aspects of evidence appear to have been overlooked throughout the inquiry, not least when it came to the conduct of the police.

Anyone reading the transcripts of their evidence is left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, even unease.

After Dr Kelly’s death, for example, the Daily Mail received a number of letters and telephone calls reporting that there were men in black clothes on Harrowdown Hill early on in the morning, significantly before Dr Kelly’s body was officially found.

After plotting the positions of his officers, Assistant Chief Constable Michael Page told the inquiry he was satisfied that the men in question were police officers, but we are not told their names or what they were doing there.

As to the officers who gave evidence, they seemed unable to agree on such basic details as how many of them were at the scene, and their testimony also conflicted with that of civilian witnesses.

Earlier in this series, I described how two members of the search party that first found Dr Kelly said that he was sitting propped up against a tree. They made no mention of a knife.

Yet by the time we come to the testimony of the police officers, we are told that he was lying on his back and that there was a knife beside him.

Clearly someone was mistaken or some adjustment was made to the scene.

This supports my view that someone wanted to make Dr Kelly’s death look like suicide — but Lord Hutton seemed unperturbed by these anomalies.

He suggested in his final report that where the police officers disagreed among themselves, this suggested that they were honest because otherwise they would have colluded beforehand to produce identical stories.

Had their accounts been consistent, would Lord Hutton then have concluded that the officers were, therefore, not revealing all they knew? Clearly not.

The implication of such an approach is that, no matter what the police said, Lord Hutton was going to believe it.

When his final report was published, it was its political conclusions that captured the headlines.

These would, of course, provoke widespread derision and anger, as he cleared the Government of virtually everything, and came down like a landslide on the heads of the BBC.

In all the fuss, the question of whether Lord Hutton had properly investigated the death of David Kelly was completely overlooked.

Clearly, though, Thames Valley Police were happy with the result.

When Assistant Chief Constable Michael Page retired last year, the eulogy at his farewell dinner was given by none other than Lord Hutton himself.
I learned of this from a police officer who declared himself very surprised that Lord Hutton should have been in attendance.

I asked Lord Hutton for a copy of what my contact had described as his “long and fulsome” speech but he was unable to provide me, with one, telling me that his comments had been impromptu.

Lord Hutton himself has also retired.

His inquiry into the death of David Kelly was his last major endeavour and is what he will always be remembered for, but it must not be allowed to be the last word on the subject.

David Kelly was a good man and we owe it to him to set aside the farce of the Hutton Inquiry, and create a new process that examines this matter officially, openly and with the rigour we are entitled to expect.

Extracted from THE STRANGE DEATH OF DAVID KELLY by Norman Baker, published by Methuen on November 12 at £9.99. To order a copy (p&p free), call 0845 606 4206.

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