Friday, 25 July 2003

Was whistleblower Kelly’s death suicide?

"How can you expect compassion in a world full of sleeping people."

The body of Dr. David Kelly was found on July 18. His left wrist had been slashed.

At the end of May, Kelly, a leading Ministry of Defence microbiologist and former senior UN weapons inspector in Iraq, had told BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan and other journalists of his concerns over the misuse of intelligence material concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Kelly became the focus of a government and media campaign to expose his identity. He was named and then forced to testify at two parliamentary inquiries into whether the government had lied in its intelligence dossiers of September 2002 and February this year.

Kelly testified in public to the Foreign Affairs Committee on July 15 and in private to the Intelligence and Security Committee on July 16. He disappeared from his home and died on July 17.

The police, the government and the media have all proceeded on the assumption that Kelly committed suicide by slitting his wrist due to the enormous pressure he was under. On July 19, Thames Valley police declared that he had bled to death after he slit one wrist. Superintendent David Purnell said a knife and an open package of Coproxamol tablets, a paracetamol-based painkiller, had been found at the scene.

Such a rush to judgement, even before a coroner’s inquiry has concluded, is impermissible given the high profile role Kelly was playing and the political embarrassment he was causing to the government, the Ministry of Defence and others.

The case for Kelly having committed suicide is plausible, but one does not have to declare categorically that he was murdered to understand that events must be seriously investigated before a verdict on his death is given. Before doing so, a number of important inconsistencies in the accounts of events that have been made public must be examined and explained:

Kelly is said to have walked out of his home at 3:00 p.m. It was not until he had failed to return by 11:45 p.m., that his family phoned the police.

It was only then that the police launched a search for Kelly, involving helicopters, sniffer dogs and more than 70 officers.

It was only at 8:20 a.m. the next day that the police went public, appealing for sightings and issuing a photograph of Kelly. When his body was discovered at 9:20 a.m., his identity was still not confirmed for several hours, although the media was already reporting the body as Kelly’s and there would have been no difficulty in recognising such a high profile person.

His wife, Janice, was only asked to confirm his identity to a coroners officer on Saturday July 19.

These events are peculiar for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the slowness of official reactions throughout the two-day period.

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