Opinion: Why the death of Dr David Kelly simply will not go away

More than three years after Lord Hutton published his Inquiry report, the death of Dr David Kelly simply won’t go away.

It won’t because Lord Hutton, charged with examining the circumstances of his death, did nothing of the sort, instead devoting nearly all his energies to refereeing the spat between the Government and the BBC. It won’t because his report was widely derided upon publication as a whitewash which might as well have been written by Alistair Campbell. But most of all it won’t because the conclusion that the government weapons inspector took his own life cannot be supported by the facts.

Back in July 2003, the House of Commons had just broken up for its long summer recess. Within hours of the House rising, Dr Kelly would be found dead in a wood in Oxfordshire.

I remember feeling shocked, but also angry, for while the man who had probably done more than any other over many years to suppress the Iraqi threat from chemical and biological weapons lay unceremoniously and violently dead, across the Atlantic the Prime Minister was being lauded by the US political establishment and offered a rare Congressional Medal, doubtless for committing UK troops to an illegal war in Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction which, as time showed, were nowhere to be found. I resolved to look into matters. It was a journey that was to take over a year of my life, culminating this week in the publication of my book, The Strange Death of David Kelly.

The first task I set myself was to test Lord Hutton’s verdict of suicide. Could this stand up? The unequivocal answer to this question was no.

For a start, it is clear that the whole process, and in particular the interface between the Coroner’s inquest and Lord Hutton’s Inquiry was deeply flawed. Indeed, Lord Hutton told me in a letter that he wasn’t even aware an inquest was proceeding parallel with his Inquiry. That is absolutely astonishing. Even more astonishing is the fact that the Coroner, who had been bundled off the case by Lord Falconer, generated a full death certificate less than a week after the Hutton Inquiry had properly started. How on earth could the Coroner have already determined the cause of death, when that was what the Hutton Inquiry had been set up to establish?

The inquiry itself had no statutory basis, meaning nobody could be required to attend, nobody was required to give evidence under oath, and none of the normal safeguards and proper procedures of a court hearing applied. The result was a mish-mash of contradictory evidence, gaping holes and an absence of any proper cross-examination.

Why, for example, did the police operation set up to deal with Dr Kelly’s death have a start time of 2.30 pm on the afternoon of his disappearance, 30 minutes before he actually set out from his house? Lord Hutton does not bother to ask.

Medical experts have made it clear that it was well nigh clinically impossible for Dr Kelly to have died in the manner described, from a cut to an obscure artery of matchstick thickness. Very little blood appears to have been lost, and I have now learnt that there were not even any fingerprints on the knife or the water bottle he is alleged to have used.

Some argue that Dr Kelly was suicidal. Yet on the morning of his disappearance, he emailed friends to say he was looking forward to returning to Iraq and even had the Ministry of Defence book him a flight for the following week. Hardly the actions of a man about to kill himself. He also left no suicide note.

But if it wasn’t suicide, then it must have been murder. Yet no obvious motive stood out, though it was a reasonable working hypothesis to assume that his death was connected in some way to the momentous events of the previous month. Dr Kelly had, of course, been outed as the official who had made known to BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan his concerns about the Government’s overhyped claim that Iraq could fire weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Did Dr Kelly have more information in his head which somebody wanted to ensure didn’t come out? Or could his death be retribution for something he had done?

Following a piece I had written for the Mail on Sunday, I had received from the public many suggestions for avenues of enquiry. A small number offered concrete information about the case.

Armed with that information, I produced a list of possible explanations for his death, and set about testing each, and ruling them out one by one.

The journey was a fascinating one. Along the way I have talked to experts in chemical and biological weapons, those with links to the intelligence services, and many ordinary members of the public, both those who knew David Kelly and those who didn’t. I have had meetings in locations as disparate as a café in Brussels, a seedy bar in Exeter, and a Little Chef just off the M11.

The key question was this: why was Dr Kelly’s such a strange death? Nobody would commit suicide that way, but nor can murder be explained by what was found. The only answer that makes sense is that he was murdered by other means, and then steps taken to make the death look like suicide. For reasons I give in the book, I believe he was murdered by Iraqi elements, the police were too late to stop this, and a decision was taken for political reasons to alter the truth.

What is certain is that the conclusions of the Hutton Inquiry are an insult to the intelligence of the British people, and because of this, this is unfinished business. It will remain so until we have a proper inquest into the death of Dr Kelly, and a proper full-scale public inquiry into the disastrous and dishonest decision by the Blair Government to take us into an illegal war in Iraq.

* Norman Baker is Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, and the party’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office Minister.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Geoffrey Payne 15th Nov '07 - 9:25pm

    Curious how the media appears to be ignoring this story. Norman could make these allegations in Parliament with the protection of Parliamentary privilege.
    Instead he is vulnerable surely to the libel laws, yet nothing is said?
    It IS curious that manner of the death of Dr David Kelly. Even more curious the way New Labour spun the story at the time that had he lived, he would have supported Labour’s policy of invasion, yet he “committed suicide”.
    Norman’s explanation has some curious characteristics too. Surely if David Kelly did not think WMD existed in Iraq, why would the Iraqi secret services want to kill him? Or was it Iraqi opposition elements? How well organised were they? To know about David Kelly, they must have colluded with the UK intelligence services.
    Is the Iraqi conspiracy a hypothesis or a theory?
    What other possibilities are there?
    I have no doubt Norman could write more.

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