In September 2002, British Prime Minster Tony Blair stood up in parliament and declared that Iraq was a serious threat to the UK’s national security and must be invaded.
Waving a dossier of intelligence, Blair said Iraq was capable of striking British forces with weapons of mass destruction within ‘45 minutes’.
The intelligence would later be shown to be false, but on the basis of the dossier the UK parliament approved the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
In May 2003, journalist Andrew Gilligan reported on BBC radio that he had learned from his sources that the Blair government had “sexed up” the dossier in order to exaggerate the threat Iraq posed.
This caused a storm of controversy and Blair’s government fiercely attacked the BBC over the report. Gilligan’s source was quickly revealed by the media as Ministry of Defence weapons expert, Dr. David Kelly.
Kelly was an expert in biological warfare and a former UN weapons inspector. He was sure the Blair government had exaggerated the intelligence about Iraq and told Gilligan in an off the record discussion.
On June 15th, Kelly was summoned to appear in front of a parliamentary committee were he was intensely questioned about his actions. 48 hours later he was dead.
Kelly, it seemed, had committed suicide. He had gone for a walk in woodland near his home, slit his wrists and overdosed on painkillers.
Kelly’s death plunged the Blair government into a major crisis and the next day they launched an official investigation, chaired by Lord Hutton — it’s remit to investigate “the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly”.
There was speculation that perhaps Kelly had been hounded to his death, even murdered, by the some element of the government or intelligence services.
Kelly’s exposure of the government's lies over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had cost him his life. Did the strain of been barracked in public by politicians and revealed as the source of Gilligan’s story put an unbearable strain on him?
Or had he been assassinated by some sinister forces within the government, seeking to silence him for exposing the lies that led to an illegal invasion of Iraq?
Was Dr Kelly murdered?
On the morning of the 17th July, Kelly sent his friend, American author Judith Miller, an email. In it he complained ominously that there were “many dark actors playing games”.
In other emails he sent at the same time, Kelly does not sound like a man about to end it all. He says how much he is looking forward to getting back to work and mentions his plans to travel to Iraq the next week.
Kelly took a phone call mid-afternoon, then left the house at about 3:20pm. Just before midnight, after not returning, his family reported him missing.
Dozens of police, neighbours and volunteers soon formed search parties and set out to find Kelly. There is, however, reason to believe he was already under surveillance before he went missing.
The scientist had become the focus of a huge political and media storm — one with international repercussions. The day before he was even interrogated by MI5 in a safe house.
Kelly had already told friends he feared his body would be “found in the woods” and was reportedly working on a ‘tell all’ book about WMD. He was both a target and a potential security threat.
He must surely have been subject to some, as yet undisclosed, surveillance operation. The police seemed to think so — that night, whilst the search parties looked for Kelly, they stripped the wallpaper in his house, presumably looking for bugs.
It already seemed evident the police knew more than they have admitted — the official investigation into Kelly’s death, ‘Operation Mason’ was opened before he was even reported missing.
Meanwhile, the search continued. At 3am, a police helicopter fitted with heat-seeking cameras flew over the very spot Kelly would be found just 6 hours later and didn’t find him.
How could Kelly not be there? The pathologist estimated he died somewhere around this time, how could the helicopter not pick up the warmth of his body?
The heat-seeking cameras either failed to do their job or Kelly had died somewhere else and his body was moved.
A further mystery surrounded reports of another helicopter landing at the Kelly’s property then leaving soon after. FOI requests revealed only a heavily redacted set of names. Who was on board?
The crime scene
Kelly’s body was finally found around 9am in woodland clearing at Harrowdown Hill, a local beauty spot close to his home. His head and shoulders were slumped against a tree.
Many doctors, paramedics, politicians and journalists were troubled by the circumstances of Kelly’s death and odd details at the crime scene.
Louise Holmes, a search and rescue volunteer, discovered Kelly’s body and along with her colleague Paul Chapman gave clear testimony about the crime scene.
“He was at the base of the tree with almost his head and his shoulders just slumped back against the tree”, Holmes told the Hutton Enquiry.
This was consistent with her police statement — “I saw that this person was slumped against the base of the tree with his head and shoulders resting against the trunk.”
On their way to alert police Holmes and Chapmen met Detective Constable Graham Coe. At Hutton, Coe was asked who he was with when he met the pair. For reasons never adequately explained, he lied.
Coe told Hutton he was with one other man — Detective Constable Shields. In fact, the two were with an unidentified third man, a lie later admitted by Coe.
Coe now claims the third man was a police trainee who he didn’t want to name. Why would Coe risk been exposed as a liar at an official inquiry over something so innocuous?
Coe’s odd lie was particularly telling in light of what happened during the next hour — somebody had moved Dr Kelly’s body.
Coe claimed he stood and ‘guarded’ the body until the arrival of police alerted by Holmes and Chapman. But by the time the other officers arrived, Kelly’s body had changed position.
PC Sawyer arrived first, accompanied by two paramedics. One of the paramedics, Dave Bartlett, described the scene — “He was lying flat out some distance from the tree. He definitely wasn’t leaning against it”.
Kelly was now so far away from the tree that Bartlett was even able to get in behind Kelly as he checked for signs of life. Who had moved Kelly’s body and why?
The obvious implication is DCI Coe or the men he was with had altered the crime scene. Already caught out in one lie, Coe’s suspicious behaviour has never been explained.
The Doctors dissent
The medical evidence surrounding Kelly’s death proved to be highly controversial. The official verdict was that he had died due to a self-inflicted injury to the ulnar artery and an overdose of his wife’s co-proxamol tablets.
Many medical professionals disagreed. In a series of letters to the national press, a number of concerned doctors disputed the official verdict. They felt the injuries to Kelly could not cause his death.
I have never seen one death of somebody from cutting an ulnar artery.
They pointed out people rarely die by wrist cutting. The arteries immediately begin to close up and constrict the blood loss. Dr Bill McQuillan, who had dealt with hundreds of wrist accidents said — “I have never seen one death of somebody from cutting an ulnar artery.”
The choice of the ulnar artery was particularly odd. The ulnar artery is deeper in the wrist and covered by nerves and tendons, which would require considerable force to cut. Why would Kelly choose that rather than the easy to access radial artery?
Nor could the painkillers have caused his death. The levels of the drug found in his stomach and bloodstream were much too low to have killed Kelly. 3 empty blister packs were found on Kelly’s body, but this was no proof of ingestion.
The paramedics agreed with the doctors. David Bartlett and Vanessa Hunt, the first medical professionals to tend to Kelly were so baffled as to the lack of blood at the scene they went to the press.
“I’ve seen more blood at a nosebleed than I saw there”, Bartlett said in an interview. The arterial spray should have covered Kelly and the whole area with blood but very little was found.
“There just wasn’t a lot of blood … When somebody cuts an artery, whether accidentally or intentionally, the blood pumps everywhere”, Hunt said.
Dr Bill McQuillan concurred. If Kelly has slit his ulnar artery “…his clothes, face and any surrounding structures would show evidence of that with the blood scattered as from a watering can”.
Some blood was found at the scene, but it takes around 3–4 pints of blood loss for an adult male to die — a huge amount that should have been apparent to all present.
Gaps in the evidence
According to police reports, various items were found at the scene — a small water bottle, a gardening knife, a painkiller blister pack, his glasses and his watch.
No fingerprints were found on any of the objects. Whilst it is common to find no identifiable fingerprints on such evidence, to find no prints at all is unusual. No mention of this was made at Hutton.
The water bottle found near Kelly’s body was still half full. It’s difficult to see how Kelly could have swallowed 29 co-proxamol tablets, as alleged, with such little water.
Worse still, Hutton failed to mention reports that Kelly suffered from ‘unexplained dysphagia’ a syndrome that makes it difficult for the subject to swallow pills.
Hutton failed to cover another medical issue. Kelly had fractured his left elbow earlier that year and according to friends was “unable to cut a steak” with his right hand. Why then, would Kelly choose to cut his wrists with his right hand?
Kelly, an expert in the ‘science of death’ had chosen an unlikely suicide method. Kelly would have been well aware that wrist slitting was unlikely to kill him; it is normally associated with young people and a ‘cry for help’.
Hutton also glossed over some disturbing details from the autopsy.
Various scuffs, abrasions and cuts were found, but they were blithely dismissed as been caused by Kelly ‘stumbling’. Could they have been evidence of a struggle with a third party?
Acetone was found in Kelly’s blood and urine, which may have indicated he died much later than thought — later than 1am. If so, the obvious question is why Kelly would disappear then wait some 8 hours or more to commit suicide?
These problems with the suicide scenario, along with the improbability of it proving fatal led to a campaign by a group of Doctors to have an official inquest opened into Kelly’s death.
The Hutton inquiry was set up the day after Kelly’s death and it immediately shut down and superseded the corners inquest.
Inquests are routinely opened in the case of violent, sudden or suspicious deaths. They are legal bodies that have the power of subpeona and evidence is given under oath.
In contrast, the Hutton inquiry had no legal authority, failed to call many key witnesses and no evidence was given under oath. Amazingly, even the head of the police investigation into Kelly’s death was not called to testify.
This caused disquiet and concern even amongst those who believed Kelly killed himself. Replacing an inquest with a political inquiry was unique in all British legal history.
Hutton’s subsequent report was widely regarded as a whitewash that was designed from the outset to declare Kelly’s death nothing more than a tragic suicide.
The suicide scenario was further reinforced in the media by several individuals claiming to have an insight into Kelly’s mental state.
The most prominent of these was Tom Mangold, a veteran journalist with links to the intelligence services. As soon as lunchtime on the day of Kelly’s death, Mangold began an exhaustive series of tv and newspaper interviews.
Always described as a ‘close’ or ‘long-time’ friend of Kelly’s, the journalist repeatedly told the media how certain he was Kelly had committed suicide.
As a personal friend, Mangold seemed to have an insight into Kelly’s trouble mind. The scientist was apparently stressed, unhappy and upset he had been publicly exposed.
Mangold, a reputable mainstream journalist, had perhaps more than anyone, helped to fix the idea that Kelly was in a suicidal state of mind.
However, it soon became clear that Mangold was, at the very least, exaggerating his relationship with Kelly.
At Hutton, it was revealed Mangold had actually known Kelly just 5 years and met him only a few times. Kelly was strictly a contact who he had talked to occasionally regarding stories he was working on.
Why then, did Mangold bombard the media with interviews claiming to be a close personal friend of Kelly? Why had he told us with such certainty Kelly was suicidal when he hardly knew him?
Many of Kelly’s own communications at this time, including one where he rebuffs supposed friend Mangold, actually show him to be optimistic and looking forward to getting back to work.
He was also a hardened UN weapons inspector, used to dealing with intense pressure and confrontation. The idea he was so troubled by the media attention that he killed himself seems unlikely.
Mangold’s tireless attempts to portray Kelly as suicidal appeared to be part of a larger media campaign to rubbish the idea that his death could have been murder.
Numerous ‘debunking’ articles and documentaries appeared which tried to shut down debate using misleading evidence and attributing false claims to the sceptics.
MP Norman Baker, who wrote a book alleging Kelly was murdered, provoked some positive news coverage but was largely singled out for ridicule.
In 2011, Attorney General Dominic Grieve refused the campaigning Doctor’s request for an inquest. Despite all the contrary evidence Grieve told parliament the evidence Kelly had committed suicide was “overwhelmingly strong”.
Several commentators have cast doubt on the motive for killing Kelly.
Most alternative accounts have Kelly murdered for his role in exposing the US and UK government’s lies over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
However, with the story already out, what could be gained from murdering him? His death only deepened a global controversy, attracting even more coverage and scrutiny to the false WMD claims.
This is a compelling argument. Sanctioning the murder of Kelly would have been an insane act that could have only made the situation for the perpetrators worse.
However, Bob Coen in his film Anthrax Wars proposes a more credible alternative motive.
Kelly was heavily involved in classified biowarfare research at a top-secret facility at Porton Down. Coen suggests Porton Down may have been involved with South Africa’s Project Coast, a project designed to create a ‘race weapon’.
Could worries that Kelly had been talking to journalists and may have been working on a ‘tell-all’ book about biowarfare have led to his murder?
If it became public that the US and UK had been involved with illegal and unethical research into bioweapons that would target only black people, the consequences would be dire.
Was British government weapons inspector Dr David Kelly murdered?