Saturday, 11 February 2012

No coroner's inquest for Dr David Kelly

The High Court has recently rejected an attempt for there to be a coroner's inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly in July 2003.

I think this is unfortunate.

Whilst one can have no serious doubt - on the evidence that is available - that Dr Kelly's death was suicide, there does remain dissatisfaction as to the the conduct and outcome of the Hutton Inquiry.

In particular, in those innocent pre-Leveson days, Lord Hutton and his team did not have the benefit of an understanding of the methods of the press which may perhaps have assisted in building up a more complete picture of how Dr Kelly was outed and the immediate events leading up to his death. (We now know what the mainstream media were capable of doing from the death of Milly Dowler the previous year - 2002.)

Given this, the lack of a coroner's inquest does rather seem a lost opportunity for a more detailed picture to emerge with witnesses under oath or affirmation.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Korhomme said...

I certainly have doubts about the exact circumstances of Dr Kelly's death -- there are inconsistencies in the medical reports that have been made available.

And if it was indeed suicide, exactly what caused the"balance of his mind" to become disturbed?

ChrisH said...

"Whilst one can have no serious doubt - on the evidence that is available - that Dr Kelly's death was suicide"

In fact, the medical evidence isn't very compelling, though more likely than a conspiracy, I'll admit.

But I think there's sufficient doubt of Kelly's intentions to warrant an open verdict.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
blackdogtales said...

I think there are unanswered questions but I cannot accept any idea of a murder by the "secret services" staged as a suicide. No one would do it! It is possible he was under surveillance and the watchers failed to intervene in his suicide attempt, which would be hugely embarrassing and damaging. It could explain apparent inconsistencies. It would not be entirely surprising as Dr Kelly was security cleared to the highest levels and had been subject to a "security style interview". Having said that, there are unanswered questions in any forensic scenario. The way his name came out through a Campbell/Baldwin "guessing game" was utterly repugnant and contrary to any notion of "duty of care" of an employer, even under circumstances of what could be viewed as gross misconduct albeit with overwhelming public interest.

Steve Jones said...

I'm not sure there's much new to be learnt about this. Peter Oborne in his biography of Alastair Campbell clearly set out the evidence that the naming of David Kelly was an act of political expediency by the then government.

There were not, in truth, many possible candidates for the original story. David Kelly was well known in press circles anyway, and it seems that the cabinet office took the decision that they would not deny him as the source if asked (whilst they would deny any other name). Given that, it doesn't take long to identify a name as the list of candidates was short.

It's also worth noting that the government instigated an investigation into the source whereupon David Kelly appears to have "outed" himself. It hardly requires the resources of the press to come up with a name given those available to the executive.

Of course if you have specific evidence of hacking of David Kelly's phone, then that would clearly be important, but I've not heard of any such specifics. In any event, it's clear that this was a politically expedient act, and that the subsequent investigation was so engineered so as to not properly address the issues of the dubious basis on which the UK went to war and the flagrant abuse of flimsy evidence.

So this is not primarily a press scandal as such. All the evidence is that it was a political scandal involving the manipulation of the press and a direct, and politically motivated attack on the independence of the BBC. The target of Greg Dyke's ire was not, as I recall, the press.

I would characterise this as a scandal of attacking the independence of media.

brian in the tamar valley said...

Firstly I would ask why, on the very morning that Dr Kelly's body was discovered, was an ad hoc inquiry set up to examine the circumstances surrounding the death. There was no legitimate reason whatsover, absolutely none! If an inquest had returned a verdict of suicide then by all means have an inquiry to see whether the BBC or the government might have had a degree of responsibility for it.

There is in fact a massive amount of doubt as to whether Dr Kelly committed suicide. If the legally required inquest had been completed then the coroner would have to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on both the forensic evidence and evidence of intent. There was no evidence of intent - frankly Professor Hawton's "evidence" on this doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There is English case law where a coroner's verdict of suicide has been challenged and quashed because the coroner failed to consider intent. Of course Hutton's Inquiry was inferior to an inquest and by its nature could only come to a conclusion and not a verdict.

At the Hutton Inquiry the first police officer to see the body DC Coe said 'the body was laying on it back by a large tree, the head towards the trunk of the tree'. His police witness statement used a similar form of words. In an interview in The Mail on Sunday on 8/8/10 Coe describes the body as having its head and shoulders against the tree. This exactly matches the description given by the civilian searcher Louise Holmes who gets to within 4 feet of the body. I asked Thames Valley Police (TVP) if they had interviewed Mr Coe over the discrepancy, they hadn't. I then asked if they were going to. Answer 'no'.

One of the ambulance crew who attended the body about 25 minutes after the arrival of DC Coe, Dave Bartlett, said in an interview on 12/9/10 that there was sufficient space between the head of the body and the tree for him to stand in. Yet TVP are adamant that the body hadn't been moved, as indeed was the Attorney General in his statement of 9/6/11.

There is much, much more that is wrong with the investigation by TVP, with the Hutton Inquiry and with the decision of Dominic Grieve.

blackdogtales said...

This is looking more interesting with each moment that passes.

Scenario: Phone-hacking is well-known as an open secret in the media. No one tittle-tattles as everyone is doing it - illegally. Dr Kelly's details (phone number) are passed from an equally-aware government source to a friendly hack. Dr Kelly's phone is hacked - successfully or otherwise. His name is passed on to another newspaper to obscure the source and to prompt action on the scientist's part - poking a stick in the wasp's nest. If successful, this could have been a trawl for Gilligan (and other) contacts, possibly fed back to government in lieu of a formally obtained telephone intercept, and could even include messages left during the search period at the time of his suicide. Not revealed at Hutton because everyone's nuts were in the wringer over hacking and, for the government to have taken a broadly equivalent route by placing an intercept, they would have needed authorisation which would not be justifiable in this case, in what is supposed to be a liberal democracy.

The flaw is that a security-cleared individual like Dr Kelly would have had some PERSEC awareness... although government ministers also in this position didn't. From my recollection, this PERSEC threat definitely wasn't briefed in the late 90s/early 00s on the couple of specialist (but low level) security courses I attended when in the Armed Forces.

Jack of Kent said...

Via Linda Grant on Facebook, this is an interesting link, worth reading very carefully:

blackdogtales said...

It is important to tread carefully. There are entrenched myths that are not true, but not far from the truth. Tom Baldwin of the Times, Alastair Campbell's friend, now working for Miliband: Baldwin did not name Kelly... the FT were the first But he did speculate about Kelly's identity in the Times, on 5 July ("Inspector") and on 8 July ("could be in Iraq looking for WMD".) Dr Kelly was effectively named on 9 July by Tom Kelly, PM's spokesman, who said he was a "technical expert" with biographical details, and this was followed by "someone" telling Richard Norton-Taylor it was an UNSCOM inspector (first MoD press office, then one of N-T's colleagues). **The Sunday Tmes sent someone round to the Kelly house that night** and he was named on PA last thing that night and in the press (FT) the next day. A week later he killed himself.

So Dr Kelly's identity was effectively being briefed in clues about four days before the name broke. Who was briefing Baldwin of the Times? Or was he getting information some other way.... or perhaps both?

And, is it true that Campbell ducked out of Blair's trip early, before the body was found? That's a persistent myth (as above) but it is difficult to nail in Hutton as there appears to be no single chronology for all parties to the affair. If so, what did it mean? Someone picking up unplayed messages sent to a phone?

brian in the tamar valley said...

JoK, reference the link (with which I am familiar) I should give a "health warning" in respect of anything Tom Mangold has written or said about this death.

For instance he had previously made a comment on the reason why no fingerprints were found on the knife at the scene: Mr Mangold said there was "gaffa tape" on the knife's handle, which wouldn't take prints. A Freedom of Information request from me established that there was no gaffa tape or anything else on the handle.

Mr Mangold speculates that a colleague told Dr Kelly about the Susan Watts recording, but that is what it is: speculation.

brian in the tamar valley said...

blackdogtales, The Sunday Times journalist who visited Dr Kelly on the evening of 9 July was Nick Rufford. Mr Rufford and Dr Kelly knew each other well.

I think that it is accepted that Alastair Campbell flew back to the UK from the US rather than continuing with Mr Blair's visit to the Far East - which I find slightly odd.

felix said...

Whilst one can have no serious doubt - on the evidence that is available - that Dr Kelly's death was suicide
JoK - just out of interest, what evidence do you find so compelling that the death was suicide? I have trawled every word I can find on this case and I find basically none. Perhaps you can point me to it?

Michel said...

Blackdog: you wrote "I cannot accept any idea of a murder by the "secret services" staged as a suicide. No one would do it!" This may hold true for the UK services, but could the same high standards be assumed for the US ? After all, their military appear to receive instruction in torture, and their Secretary of State didn't appear to know 'waterboarding' was torture! In the light of what we now know the Bush administration was capable of, your comment seems a little ...well, naive.

Secondly - regarding the phone hacking possibility - I can recall someone on C4 stating that all of their and Dr. Kelly's emails 'disappeared ' in front of their eyes on one occasion. This was downloading to a POP address - you get instructions on how to do this if a service provider is going out of business, and you want to save all of the emails you have on their server. You open up a new account with (e.g. Google), and can download everything from each folder to the new email address. All you need to be able to do this is the user name and password (which you can actually hack quite easily). Did anyone manage to trace the new address his emails were sent to?

Thirdly - why not simply hold an Inquest of interested parties live on C4, or even on an internet? The technology for live feeds from (e.g.) Westminster committee meetings is far from complicated.

Chris said...

"Whilst one can have no serious doubt - on the evidence that is available - that Dr Kelly's death was suicide"

On the contrary, I believe that anyone that has read all the available material would say quite the opposite, that one cannot but seriously doubt that the man took his own life and indeed, doubt that he died in the location where he was found.

There are far too many inconsistencies in the various accounts of the location of his body, the total, clinical lack of any DNA or fingerprints on the items around him, theoretically placed there and used by him. Who would forensically clean their personal effects before killing themselves ?

Why was the police 'Operation Mason' file created several hours before his disappearance was reported by his family ?

Why did the infra-red camera on the helicopter that searched the area in the early hours not discover the still-warm body when the police accounts state that Harrowdown Hill was flown over more than once.

Who was the mysterious third man that the pair that discovered the body stated accompanied DS.Coe and another colleague to the location of the body, and why was his presence later denied ?

Why was there barely a trace of the 24 tablets that he was said to have ingested ?

Why did long-experienced paramedics state that there was nowhere near the amount of blood at the scene to account for his bleeding to death, from an artery that highly respected surgeons say would have closed and stopped bleeding very quickly anyway ?

Why would a man of his scientific background, and who had access to all kinds of toxic substances as part of his work and who was known to have an aversion to taking tablets choose such an uncertain, and brutal manner in which to end his life as overdose and wrist-cutting ?

How did a man who was averse to taking tablets swallow 24 of them with the relatively small amount of water that was missing from the 750ml bottle at the scene ?

Why was a communications mast capable of contacting an aircraft outside UK airspace erected in the area ? (Blair was on a plane at the time..)

Who were the mysterious men in black in a dingy seen nearby at such an early hour of the morning ?

If he died with his head and shoulders leant against a tree, why was the dried vomit seen to trace from the sides of his mouth horizontally towards the back of his head, and not down his jaw and neck as one would expect ?

The list goes on; to conclude that there is absolutely no doubt of suicide simply does not follow from the evidence.