Tuesday, July 25, 2006 6:52 PM
15:02pm 24th July 2006
Everyone knows, don’t they, that most untoward events generally have banal explanations such as muddle, incompetence or sheer blind chance.
To believe otherwise is to run the risk of being branded a ‘conspiracy theorist’, a small step away from being lumped together with the kind of people who think that crop circles are designed by visitors from Mars or that Princess Diana was murdered by MI6.
The death of the weapons inspector Dr David Kelly in 2003 triggered a political firestorm of the highest order. His apparent suicide put the Government under enormous pressure following his unmasking as the source of the BBC’s claim that the Government had ‘sexed up’ the case for war in Iraq.
All attention focused on the epic battle between Alastair Campbell and the BBC over this claim, and the treatment the Government meted out to Dr Kelly.
Even though the inquiry into the affair by Lord Hutton exonerated ministers and officials of virtually all charges, merely rebuking them for not having warned Dr Kelly that his name was about to be made public, the Government was still widely blamed for driving him to his death.
Right from the start, however, there were many who were not convinced Dr Kelly had taken his own life at all. Many aspects of the story just didn’t seem to add up. First was the character of the man and his demeanour on the day he died.
Although he was under intense pressure, he was known to be a strong character and belonged to the Baha’i faith, which prohibits suicide.
Those closest to him (such as his sister), and even neighbours he met on his last walk, said that on the day he died he had shown no signs of depression.
The Hutton inquiry, and the experts it called, dismissed out of hand any idea that Dr Kelly had not killed himself. But the suspicions wouldn’t go away, and developed a life of their own on the internet.
Claims were made that Dr Kelly’s body had been moved from its original prone position on the ground, and propped up against a tree. Items said to have been found near his body had not been seen by the paramedics who first found him. And so on.
Such claims were given considerably more authority in 2004 when three medical specialists wrote in a letter to the Press that they did not believe the official finding that Dr Kelly died either from haemorrhaging from a severed ulnar artery in his wrist, or from an overdose of coproxamol tablets, or a combination of the two.
Such an artery, they said, was of matchstick thickness and severing it would not lead to the kind of blood loss that would kill someone. They also pointed out that, according to the ambulance team at the scene, the quantity of blood around the body was minimal — hardly what one would expect if someone has just haemorrhaged to death.
Even stranger, although Dr Kelly was said to have swallowed 29 coproxamol tablets, only one-fifth of one tablet was found in his stomach, and the level found in his blood was far less than a fatal dose.
Despite the expertise of these sceptics, their claims went largely unnoticed. The implications seemed too far-fetched to be taken seriously. After all, if Dr Kelly did not commit suicide, and clearly didn’t just drop dead of natural causes, he must have been killed.
Who could have done such a deed? The Iraqi secret service? Our own? Shadowy terrorists lying in wait in the Oxfordshire woods armed with undetectable poisons and an array of evidence to lay a false trail and bamboozle everyone?
No, this kind of thinking properly belonged in the pages of John Le Carre’s fiction.
But now, it has not only been taken up within Parliament, but the original charges of inconsistency have been embellished with much more evidence which can no longer be ignored.
The tenacious Lib Dem MP Norman Baker gave up his front-bench job to investigate these claims. What he has uncovered is remarkable and poses questions which demand to be answered.
Mr Baker has not only found experts who confirm the analysis of the three doctors about the discrepancies and scientific improbabilities in the official account.
He has also discovered that only one person in the UK was said to have killed himself by slitting his ulnar artery that year — and that was Dr Kelly.
This is hardly surprising since this is just about the most improbable way to commit suicide, made even more difficult by the inappropriate knife that Dr Kelly is said to have used.
More explosively still, however, are Mr Baker’s discoveries (published in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday) about the behaviour of the police and the coroner.
The normal practice in such circumstances would be for the coroner to issue a temporary death certificate pending the official inquiry into such a death.
But in this case, the coroner issued an unprecedented full death certificate, just one week after the inquiry started into the circumstances of Dr Kelly’s demise — and after the coroner had held a meeting with Home Office officials.
What on earth could have been the point of such a meeting at such a sensitive time, except for the Government to direct the coroner in some unspecified and possibly improper way?
As for the police, their behaviour appears to have been even more bizarre.
According to Mr Baker, their operation to investigate Dr Kelly’s death started around nine hours before the weapons expert was reported missing. What astounding prescience! With such psychic powers among the police, one wonders there is any crime at all.
Many of these curiosities surfaced in evidence to the Hutton inquiry, only to be batted away. Lord Hutton’s brief was simply to inquire into ‘the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly’. Clearly, he could have investigated the manner of his death, but he chose not to do so.
Instead, he took it as a given that Dr Kelly had taken his own life — and stated that he was satisfied by claims which we are now told were scientifically impossible, that Dr Kelly killed himself by slitting his left wrist and that his death was hastened by the number of coproxamol tablets he had taken.
Mr Baker claims that Lord Hutton was chosen at speed by a cabal around the Prime Minister because he was inexperienced and could be relied upon to toe the line.
When his report exonerated the Government, he was rounded upon as a patsy by those who were certain that it had Dr Kelly’s blood on its hands. But maybe, just like Lord Hutton himself, such critics missed the fact that he had asked the wrong questions altogether.
Now, it has taken just one terrier-like MP to unearth all this information.
Why has no official body asked the same questions about all these obvious peculiarities? Why has no one given a straight answer to those who have raised them?
What is the point of going to the expense and public performance of a high-profile official inquiry, only to find that the most basic of questions about evidence that is either contradictory or doesn’t stand up to scrutiny haven’t even been asked?
In the light of all this, the coroner’s decision not to resume the inquest into Dr Kelly’s death because there were ‘no exceptional circumstances’ appears totally unsustainable. A full inquest is now imperative to get to the bottom of this disturbing mystery once and for all.