Kelly Feared His Body “Would be Found in the Woods”
The Blair government faces a serious test of its survival next week when its highest officers are questioned by the Hutton Inquiry into the sudden death of its senior bio-weapons expert, Dr. David Kelly on July 17. The circumstances leading up to that death forced British prime minister Tony Blair to set up a judicial inquiry commission headed by Lord Hutton. Blair, who promised full cooperation with the probe, himself takes the stand Thursday, August 28. He is preceded by defence secretary Geoff Hoon on Wednesday and on Tuesday, by chairman of the join intelligence committee John Scarlett who wrote the crucial Iraq WMD dossier that has tested the government’s credibility.
They will be called upon to address the main issues placed before the Inquiry in the first two weeks of sittings. In none does the Blair government come out with too much credit. That evidence in the form of 6,000 pages of testimony and e-mails was placed on the inquiry’s Website this weekend.
The most dramatic moment of the hearings occurred Thursday evening, August 21, in a whole new set of revelations from David Broucher, the British representative at the conference on disarmament in Geneva. His evidence was a bombshell to the few Inquiry members who had not yet left for the weekend.
What he said was that in February, just before the war in Iraq, the late David Kelly had told him in Geneva that he was still in contact with senior figures in the Saddam regime. He said he as trying to convince them to cooperate with the UN inspectors to avert an invasion. He was afraid that the invasion would go ahead anyway and that the Iraqis would conclude he had deceived them. Kelly then told Boucher that the Iraqis were unlikely to have many biological weapons left and in any event they could not be deployed quickly as the material was kept separately from the delivery systems.
At the end of their conversation Broucher said he asked Kelly what would happen if Iraq was invaded. The scientist is quoted by Broucher as saying: “I will probably be found dead in the woods.”
It is not clear what Kelly, who was indeed found dead in a wood with a slashed left wrist, meant when he made this tragic prediction six months earlier. Was he over-dramatizing? Or was he so deeply involved with the Iraqi regime that he expected them to take revenge if the invasion went through. At the time, Broucher believed it was a throwaway line. But could it have had a more sinister meaning?
Another point brought out by the British diplomat in his testimony may give the scientist’s death a more personal slant. He stated that, while Kelly’s employers saw him as a “relatively junior official”, the scientist saw himself as a premier expert on Iraq’s biological WMD as did many others in the field. He wrote many letters to the MoD’s personnel department over recent years querying his grading and salary and complained he had fallen into “a black hole” when he was close to retiring and worried about his pension. Could this worry have contributed to his depression and led to his death, along with his exposure to the media as a kind of mole by an unappreciative government? Or perhaps it came about from other causes.
The next stages of the inquiry should answer some of these questions.
Five main issues emerged from the second week of the Hutton Inquiry::
1. 10 Downing Street communications director Alastair Campbell vs Andrew Gilligan, producer of the BBC program that accused the government of embellishing its case for going to war against Iraq. This is more or less a personal battle. Campbell barely disguises his contempt for journalists seemingly forgetting that he was a tabloid journalist until 1994. He can barely control his anger that the BBC has not apologised for what he sees as slander.
2. The ‘forty-five minute” insertion in the government’s weapons of mass destruction dossier on Iraq, which was crucial in the propaganda battle to win the hearts and minds of the British people and Parliament, and win their support for the war.
3. Was Campbell responsible for the problematical insertion suggesting that Saddam Hussein was capable of activating his prohibited weapons at 45 minutes notice? And if so, was it with the Prime Minister’s approval and support? Blair will have to answer this question when he takes the stand next Thursday.
4. The circumstances directly leading up to Dr. Kelly’s death. This is what Lord Hutton focused on in his interventions to the witnesses and this may, in the end, be the most important issue for the government.
5. How did Dr. Kelly’s name become known? When Lord Hutton intervenes to directly question the witnesses, it is clear that this is his main concern.
The answers heard this week have not resolved any of these questions.
Dr. Kelly had written to his immediate superior at the MoD on June 30, 2003, to admit that he had met Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who compiled the report alleging that the Government had ‘sexed up’ the dossier on Iraq’s WMD. But he was then still denying being the source who had accused No. 10 of transforming the dossier.
On Friday July 4th, there was a meeting at No. 10 of the PM’s inner circle to discuss the situation. Blair later received a fax reporting on the developments. Jonathan Powell, the PM’s Chief of Staff, told Lord Hutton, who asked why so many senior officials were necessary to discuss the matter, that it was an “appropriate response” as it would have meant that the Andrew Gilligan story was exaggerated and incorrect.
Pam Teare, the MoD’s press director, in her evidence, denied that Downing Street officials were involved with drawing up plans to confirm Dr. Kelly’s name to the press. She was concerned that Kelly’s name would leak out, or that journalists would establish his identity by a process of elimination. But by July 8, the MoD had prepared a ‘question and answer’ document with set answers to questions that might be posed by journalists. This allowed Dr. Kelly to be named if the journalist offered his name first.
Peter Knox, the junior counsel to the Inquiry, asked: ‘Is this not all a bit of a charade? Give me the right name and I will tell you the right name and I will tell you if you have the right answer.’
Alastair Campbell told the Inquiry that he now believed that the key elements of the Dr. Kelly tragedy should have been handled differently. He believed that Dr. Kelly’s name should have been revealed soon after the scientist came forward as the source. He agreed that he had seen Dr. Kelly as the key to resolving Downing Street’s bitter battle with the BBC over the dossier on Iraq’s MWD.
Lord Hutton: Suppose someone had said – distinguished civil servant – if we release his name – considerable strain – did no-one say batten down the hatches and say don’t give his name?
Campbell (after long pause): I think you could have done that but I think you would have ended with the media pressure and I think it would have come out anyway.’
Campbell said that he did not know Dr. Kelly, but his impression was that he was a ‘strong resolute character’ and he had not thought that events would take the turn they had.
The judge later asked Campbell what he thought of the procedure for disclosing Dr. Kelly’s name. He replied “it is often a yes or no answer situation’ and he could see why the strategy was put together. He said that he would have preferred Dr. Kelly’s name to have been declared in an official Government statement. “Far better it would have been,” he said, “for that to be announced properly, cleanly, straightforwardly and then you can actually put in place all the proper support that somebody who is not used to this kind of pressure can then maybe better deal with.”
Campbell gave an assured and smooth performance in the witness box and seemed to answer all the questions regarding the charges that he had played a dominant role in the whole affair and, in particular, that he had played a part in inserting the ’45- minutes’ into the dossier on Iraq’s WMD. His role, he said, was solely concerned with presentational matters.
This impression was spoiled the next day, Wednesday August 20, by a Downing Street colleague. Godrick Smith, one of the PM’s official spokesmen, claimed that Campbell, in a telephone conversation with defence secretary Geoff Hoon, advised leaking Dr. Kelly’s name to one newspaper. This was at a time when the MoD was still not sure whether Dr. Kelly was the source of Andrew Gilligan’s report on the BBC. This testimony suggests that Campbell conspired with Hoon to frame Kelly.
Dr. Kelly apparently killed himself as a result of the subsequent exposure.
Although Campbell, as we have shown, was questioned closely on this by Lord Hutton, he had failed to disclose his plan to leak the name of Dr. Kelly. This may severely damage him later. Hoon will be quizzed even more closely on this crucial question when he appears before the inquiry next Wednesday.
Sir Kevin Tebbit, the top civil servant at the MoD, giving his evidence on the same day, defended the ministry’s treatment of Dr. Kelly, and said he believed a major issue of the government’s integrity was at stake. He was accused by Counsel to the Inquiry, James Dingemans, of allowing a series of ‘clues’ to be trailed before the media so as to expose Dr. Kelly’s name. The communique he read out revealed his length of service in the MoD, that he was seconded from the foreign and commonwealth office, that he had served as a United Nations Weapons inspector and that he was a senior advisor to the department’s Arms Proliferation Secretariat.
Dingemans asked, “It does seem, reading this … that once you have got the clues it isn’t going to be very difficult to identify Dr. Kelly.”
There was laughter when the witness replied “These were not intended to be clues.”
Asked if Dr. Kelly was given a ‘security-style’ second interview by the MoD, as referred to in evidence, Sir Kevin said he was given “as thorough an investigation as could have been achieved.”
But next day, August 21, Nick Rufford, a Sunday Times journalist told the Inquiry that, when he spoke to Dr. Kelly after he (Dr. Kelly) had given his evidence to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, the scientist told him that he had not known that his name would be given to the press and he was quite distressed by his grilling ordeal before the Committee. This contradicts evidence given to the Inquiry by various senior civil servants.
Dr. Kelly died two days after his appearance before the Committee.
As the picture builds up of the treatment accorded Dr. Kelly prior to his death by his official employers, Lord Hutton may be expected to condemn the government – and in particular the MoD – for exposing Dr. Kelly’s name and putting him into the firing line in an affair that goes to the heart of the Blair government’s credibility in the case it presented for going to war in Iraq..