Saturday, February 28, 2004
THE STRANGE "SUICIDE" OF DAVID KELLY:
Questions for the coroner's inquest
by Renan Talieva
With the release of his report last month, Lord Brian Hutton pronounced the death of scientist David Kelly a suicide. But the evidence given at the inquiry does not substantiate the finding. It is not yet known exactly how he died.
Members of the medical community and the general public are beginning to express growing skepticism about the stated cause of death. In response to their concerns, Oxfordshire coroner Nicholas Gardiner will hold a hearing in March to determine if 'exceptional reasons' compel him to reopen the original inquest. 
There is more than adequate cause to question the current interpretation of the scientist's demise, as set forth by the Hutton report (HR) and the public record of the Hutton inquiry (HI). The official version can be summarized as follows.
Between 3.00 and 3.20 pm on 17 July 2003, Dr Kelly left his Oxfordshire residence after telling his wife he was going for his regular walk. At about 9.20 am on 18 July, his body was found by volunteer searchers in a wooded area on Harrowdown Hill. On the body was a mobile telephone, glasses, key fob, and three 10-tablet blister packs of coproxamol with 1 tablet remaining. Near the body was a Barbour cap, wristwatch, Sandvig knife, and half-litre bottle of water.
From this it was concluded that although he suffered from no significant mental illness, by the afternoon of 17 July Dr Kelly was feeling isolated and hopeless. When he left the house he took with him several packets of his wife's prescription pain medication, a gardening knife from his desk drawer, and a bottle of water.
He proceeded to one of his favorite haunts, a peaceful and secluded spot, where sometime between 4.15 pm and 1.15 am he removed his watch and glasses, swallowed over 20 pills, and repeatedly slashed at his left wrist, leaving the radial artery intact but completely severing the ulnar artery which caused him to bleed to death, most of the blood soaking into the detritus of the woodland floor.
In the process of stumbling or thrashing about in the undergrowth he possibly sustained minor abrasions to the scalp and lower lip, along with bruising to the lower legs and left side of chest. His demise was further hastened by a less than fatal but more than therapeutic blood level of dextropropoxyphene and paracetamol, and by clinically silent coronary artery disease.
It is an odd and illogical tale, notable for its abundance of conjecture and conflicting witness accounts. The ten questions below highlight some disturbing anomalies.
Did Kelly cut his own wrist?
Forensic pathologist Nicholas Hunt gave no evidence specifying the direction in which the wounds were made to support a conclusion of self-infliction. The presumed scenario is that Dr Kelly drew the knife with his right hand across his left wrist (thumb to little finger).
But the location of arteries in the wrist suggests that in so doing he would have more easily damaged the superficial radial artery on the lateral aspect. It is not likely he would have left the radial artery intact while exerting enough pressure to completely sever the deeper, better protected ulnar artery at the medial aspect. 
And forensic biologist Roy Green observed that finding a bloodstain on the right sleeve of Dr Kelly's jacket was 'slightly unusual' [HI] in view of the presumed scenario. The pathologist did not mention blood on the right sleeve in his evidence.
Dr Hunt also made the questionable inference that the apparent removal of the watch 'whilst blood was already flowing' [HI], along with the removal of the spectacles, pointed toward an act of self harm. It seems more likely Dr Kelly would have removed the watch before inflicting the wounds and left his glasses on to facilitate the effort.
Then there is the alleged weapon. If Dr Kelly's intention was to efficiently open an artery, his choice of an old, blunt* gardening knife seems highly unlikely. As does the horizontal incision of a single wrist.
*Bluntness is assumed from the pathologist's description of the wound's crushed edges.
Did Kelly bleed to death?
Medical specialists have questioned whether the incised wounds as described by Dr Hunt could have led to fatal haemorrhage. Only the small ulnar artery was cut which, having been completely transected, would have defensively retracted and clotted while blood pressure slowed, thereby greatly inhibiting the flow of blood. 
And if one were to accept a verdict of death by exsanguination, why was there not more blood found in the vicinity?
It has been estimated that for a person of Dr Kelly's size to die of haemorrhage, he would need to lose about five pints of blood. But witness accounts did not indicate anything near that amount at the scene.
Paramedic Vanessa Hunt volunteered the observation that there was 'no obvious arterial bleeding. There was no spraying of blood or huge blood loss or any obvious loss on the clothing. ... As to on the ground, I do not remember seeing a sort of huge puddle or anything like that.' [HI] This was seconded by ambulance technician David Bartlett, who commented 'we was surprised there was not more blood on the body if it was an arterial bleed.' [HI]
In rebuttal to these comments, the forensic biologist referred to 'a fair bit of blood' [HI] around the body and surmised that much of it had probably been absorbed by leaf litter covering the ground. He does not appear from the evidence to have tested the premise.
The pathologist's conclusion that '[t]he arterial injury had resulted in the loss of a significant volume of blood,' [HI] seemed to derive from the fact that the artery had been cut rather than from specific evidence at the scene or the post mortem examination. He did not offer an assessment of the amount of blood remaining in the heart and large vessels to support a conclusion of haemorrhage.
Did Kelly take an overdose of his wife's medication?
Although the secondary cause of death was determined to be coproxamol ingestion, forensic toxicologist Alexander Allan reported finding merely 67 milligrammes of paracetamol in the stomach contents (equivalent to one-fifth of one tablet of coproxamol), and blood level concentrations per millilitre of 97 microgrammes for paracetamol and 1.0 microgrammes for dextropropoxyphene (equivalent to approximately 20 tablets).
Dr Allan acknowledged this amount to be three to four times lower than the medically accepted level for fatal overdose. Dr Hunt offered no post mortem evidence of respiratory depression or heart failure consistent with dextropropoxyphene overdose, or of liver damage from paracetamol overdose.
Lord Hutton noted that according to Dr Allan, 'the only way in which paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene could be found in Dr Kelly's blood was by him taking tablets containing them which he would have to ingest.' [HR p 95] But acquaintance Mai Pederson reportedly told police that Dr Kelly had difficulty swallowing pills -- a condition which could be confirmed by family, friends or physician. If true, it is doubtful that he would have voluntarily chosen to ingest over 20 of them.
In addition, as a scientist and biowarfare specialist Dr Kelly would presumably have known how much coproxamol was required to induce overdose, and have had knowledge of and access to faster and more lethal substances.
Nor was it adequately demonstrated at the inquiry that the blister packs found in Dr Kelly's jacket were taken from his wife's prescription.
In his report, Lord Hutton deemed it 'probable that the Coproxamol tablets which Dr Kelly took just before his death came from a store of those tablets which Mrs Kelly, who suffered from arthritis, kept in their home.' [HR p 96] This despite evidence from Detective Constable Eldridge that their identical batch numbers were shared with 1.6 million other packets sold throughout the country.
And Mrs Kelly did not confirm that an equivalent number of tablets were missing from her store at the house.
Was Kelly suicidal?
In the expert opinion of psychiatrist Keith Hawton it was 'well nigh certain' [HI] that Dr Kelly had committed suicide, a conclusion based largely on circumstantial evidence: isolated location of the site, wounds to the wrist, apparent use of a familiar object, presence of several empty blister packs. Less attention was given to the numerous contraindicators of suicidal ideation.
Professor Hawton told the inquiry that Dr Kelly was 'an intensely private man' who kept his emotions bottled up and whose self-esteem was tied to his work. [HI] He theorized that in the wake of the parliamentary hearings, Dr Kelly had begun to see himself as publicly disgraced and to fear the loss of his job. Receiving additional parliamentary questions at about 9.28 am on 17 July possibly led to a perception that the problem was escalating and increased his sense of hopelessness.
But these suppositions are not borne out by witness accounts or by Dr Kelly's own behavior.
According to MoD colleague Wing Commander John Clark, Kelly had reporting being in good spirits when they spoke by telephone on 17 July. Clark and Kelly had agreed on 25 July as the date for him to fly to Iraq to work with the survey group, and the evidence indicated he was eager to resume that effort.
At about 11.18 am that morning, Dr Kelly sent several e-mails to friends and colleagues, most anticipating that it would 'all blow over by early next week' [HI] and indicating his expectation of returning to Baghdad the following Friday. The e-mail messages given as evidence are not indicative of depression, despair, or hopelessness.
Nor did Dr Kelly seem uncharacteristically distraught in encounters with two neighbors after leaving the house. Sometime around 3.00 pm he stopped and chatted amiably for a few minutes with neighbor Ruth Absalom, who described him as '[j]ust his normal self, no different to any other time when I have met him.' [HI] Farmer Paul Weaver also saw Kelly walking through farmland that afternoon, as reported by the 20 July Observer. Weaver commented that Kelly 'seemed happy enough' and had smiled at him. 
Professor Hawton in his evidence mentioned three possible factors that might have acted as deterrents against Dr Kelly's suicide.
One was faith. Dr Kelly was acknowledged to have been a practicing member of the Baha’i faith, which strongly condemns the act of suicide.
Another was family. He had arranged with his daughter Rachel the night of 16 July to join him at his home the next evening for a walk and to visit a nearby foal. He was also looking forward to his daughter's wedding in October.
A third was the effect of a previous suicide by a family member, which may decrease the likelihood of the survivor choosing a similar course. Dr Kelly has been quoted by Mai Pederson as saying in regard to his mother's suicide, 'Good God no, I couldn’t imagine ever doing that ... I would never do it.' 
These mitigating factors, coupled with Professor Hawton's observation that Dr Kelly's 'mood was predominantly reported as being quite upbeat in spite of all his difficulties' with no 'sense of a persistent depressive mood' [HI], and an historical lack of psychiatric problems, contrast sharply with Hawton's depiction of a man suddenly pushed over the edge by additional parliamentary questions and a terminal case of mortification.
Assistant Chief Constable Michael Page confirmed that 'based on early discussions with the inquiry it seemed entirely out of character' for Dr Kelly to have taken his own life. [HI]
Was Kelly's body moved?
Throughout the inquiry it was assumed that the body remained undisturbed until checked for vital signs by the ambulance crew. But there were marked discrepancies in descriptions of body position, particularly whether the body was lying flat or the head and shoulders rested against the tree, and whether the right arm was lying to the side of the body or across the chest.
By all accounts, the first person on the scene was Louise Holmes, a volunteer member of the search team who approached to within a few feet of the body. She stated: 'I could see a body slumped against the bottom of a tree. ... He was at the base of the tree with almost his head and his shoulders just slumped back against the tree. His legs were straight in front of him. His right arm was to the side of him. His left arm had a lot of blood on it and was bent back in a funny position.' [HI]
The second person to view the body was fellow searcher Paul Chapman. From a distance of 15 to 20 metres he saw: 'The body of a gentleman sitting up against a tree... He was sitting with his back up against a tree...' [HI]
Soon after, Detective Constable Graham Coe arrived at the scene. His description was quite different: 'It was laying on its back -- the body was laying on its back by a large tree, the head towards the trunk of the tree.' [HI] He also reported seeing a knife, watch, and small water bottle near the body. Holmes and Chapman did not mention seeing other objects, nor were they questioned about them at the inquiry.
Lord Hutton chose not to quote Chapman directly in his report but related that, 'Mr Chapman then took one of the police officers, Detective Constable Coe, to show him where the body was. Mr Chapman showed Detective Constable Coe the body lying on its back...' [HR p 86] Hutton later commented, 'I have seen a photograph of Dr Kelly's body in the wood which shows that most of his body was lying on the ground but that his head was slumped against the base of the tree - therefore a witness could say either that the body was lying on the ground or slumped against the tree.' [HR p 100]
But Chapman twice used the term 'sitting' to denote body position, which is not to be confused with 'lying.' And subsequent witnesses did not use the term 'slumped' at all, nor did they indicate that any part of the body was resting against the tree.
Police Constables Dean Franklin and Martyn Sawyer were next on the scene. PC Franklin described the victim as 'lying on his back with his right hand to his side and his left hand was sort of inverted with the palm facing down (Indicates), facing up on his back.' [HI] PC Sawyer described the body as '[l]ying on its back with its head at the base of a tree, a large tree. The head was tilted to the left. The right arm was by the side. The left arm was palm down.' [HI]
The ambulance crew arrived soon after and waited while police photographs were taken before checking for vital signs. Hunt stated: 'There was a male on his back, feet towards us. On his left arm, which was outstretched to the left of him, there was some dry blood. ... The only part of the body we moved was Dr Kelly's right arm, which was over the chest, to facilitate us to place the fourth lead on to the chest.' [HI] Bartlett stated: 'They led us up to where the body was laid, feet facing us, laid on its back, left arm out to one side (indicates) and the right arm across the chest.' [HI]
It is possible the body was moved for some reason by police. But no one gave evidence to that effect. DC Coe in particular made a point of telling the inquiry he observed the scene but 'did not go over the body.' [HI] As related by Lord Hutton, Coe 'remained about seven or eight feet away from the body and stayed in that position for about 25 or 30 minutes until two other police officers arrived...' [HR p 86]
The position of the head at the time the body was found is significant in relation to what Bartlett described as stains going from the 'corners of the mouth' towards the 'bottom of the ears.' [HI] These were confirmed by pathologist Hunt to be vomit streaks. The direction of the streaks indicate the head would have been lying flat, not slightly raised. If the head was resting against the tree at the time, the streaks would have come forward down the chin. This raises the further possibility that the body was moved after death but prior to discovery by Holmes.
These disparities could possibly be resolved using the digital photographs taken by search team leader PC Sawyer, supposedly before the body and surrounding area were disturbed. It does not appear that searchers Holmes and Chapman or ambulance crew members Hunt and Bartlett were asked to verify whether the photos accurately reflected the position in which they found the body.
Is there reason to suspect foul play?
ACC Page's stated confidence that Dr Kelly 'met his death at his own hand' [HI] derived from the absence of contravening evidence. But as noted by the following items, there were some intimations of outside involvement. It is not apparent that these were seriously explored by the inquiry.
On the morning of the day he went missing, Dr Kelly sent an e-mail message to Judith Miller, a journalist acquaintance with the New York Times, containing the line: 'I will wait until the end of the week before judging - many dark actors playing games.' [HI exhibit COM/1/15]
David Broucher, British ambassador to the disarmament conference, reported to the inquiry a conversation he recalled having with Dr Kelly at a Geneva meeting in February 2003 (the date and location of which are subject to debate). Broucher had asked Kelly what would happen if Iraq were invaded, and Kelly had replied, 'I will probably be found dead in the woods.'[HI] Professor Hawton dismissed this as 'pure coincidence' and without relevance to Dr Kelly's death. [HI] Others have strangely twisted it to represent a premonition of his impending suicide. Taken at face value, it could as readily be interpreted to mean he was aware of some threat to his safety.
The coproxamol and knife found at the scene are ideal choices for lending the appearance of suicide, especially if one starts out with that conclusion. Both items could easily be associated with the victim and shown to be readily available to him at his home. Of interest here is the comment by a Thames Valley Police spokesman reported in the 18 July Guardian, the day the body was found. 'Responding to questions about whether the dead man had died of gunshot wounds, the spokesman said that Dr Kelly was not a licensed firearms holder.' 
ACC Page gave evidence that he had been contacted by a witness who reported seeing three men dressed in dark or black clothing between 8.30 and 9.30 am on 18 July near the site where Dr Kelly's body was found. ACC Page said he was able to satisfy himself by plotting the movements of the approximately 50 officers at the scene that he was 'aware of the identity of these three individuals.' [HI] He declined to elaborate on their purported activities.
ACC Page told the inquiry that Dr Kelly's dentist had reported the following incident. Upon hearing on 18 July of Dr Kelly's death, she had attempted to retrieve his dental records from the filing cabinet and found them missing; two days later they had reappeared in their expected place in the filing cabinet. According to ACC Page, the police had investigated and 'found no trace of anything untoward.' [HI] There was no evidence from the dentist that she believed the records to have been misplaced.
Dr Hunt's post mortem examination noted three minor abrasions to the scalp, a small abrasion on the inner lower lip, a bruise below the left knee, two bruises below the right knee, and two bruises over the left side of the chest. His supposition that these injuries may have been sustained through contact with the undergrowth or by stumbling about in the brush merits further critical analysis.
Who is DC Coe?
According to evidence given at the inquiry, Detective Constable Graham Coe enjoyed some prominence in the police investigation. He initially took charge of the death scene, and by his own account supervised an exhibits officer during a search of the Kelly residence on 19 July. But he was not mentioned by ACC Page in connection with the case, nor did the search adviser or search team leader seem to be aware of his activities. There is also some question as to how he came to be the first police officer on the scene and who accompanied him.
Upon locating the body, searchers Holmes and Chapman notified Abingdon police station by mobile phone and were instructed to return to the car and wait for police officers to arrive. Within a few minutes, while walking back to the car, they encountered three men coming up the track, one of whom identified himself as DC Coe.
Chapman told the inquiry, 'As we were going down the path we met three police officers coming the other way that were from CID. We identified ourselves to them. They were not actually aware that (a) the body had been found or we were out searching this area. They I think had just come out on their own initiative to look at the area.' [HI]
DC Coe told the inquiry he had been called out to Abingdon police station at 6.00 am and instructed to 'make some house to house inquiries in the area where Dr Kelly lived.' After speaking to neighbor Ruth Absalom about her encounter with Dr Kelly the previous afternoon, DC Coe and a colleague, whom he identified as Detective Constable Shields, 'went to the area where she had last seen him and made a sort of search towards the river.' [HI]
But search adviser PC Franklin stated he had believed there were only two volunteers out searching at that time, and he had anticipated that after receiving the call he and search team leader PC Sawyer 'were going to be the first team out on the ground.' He evidenced surprise at having found DC Coe and the 'two uniformed police officers' there, commenting 'I had no idea what he was doing there or why he was there. He was just at the scene when PC Sawyer and I arrived.' [HI]
PC Sawyer stated: 'We continued walking up the hill, where I saw DC Coe and two uniformed officers. ...The three officers -- DC Coe and the two uniformed officers -- stayed on the path which leads through the woods.' [HI]
DC Coe affirmed he had only one companion. But at least four other witnesses contradicted his account, specifically stating (some more than once) that he had been accompanied by two other men. Lord Hutton dismissed these discrepancies by noting that 'entirely honest witnesses often give evidence as to what they saw at the scene which differs as to details.' [HR p 100]
It does not appear that the inquiry attempted to verify who DC Coe was with, why they were at the scene, and whether or not he and his two companions were the three men in dark clothing witnessed earlier that morning near Harrowdown Hill.
What is Operation 'Mason'?
One piece of evidence listed on the Hutton inquiry website was 'TVP Tactical Support Major Incident Policy Book: Operation 'Mason' Between 1430 17.07.03 and 0930 18.07.03, DCI Alan Young.' [HI exhibit TVP/10/0099-0105]
In the course of the inquiry PC Sawyer identified Detective Chief Inspector Alan Young as senior investigating officer for the case. ACC Page stated that upon being notified that Dr Kelly's body had been found, he had appointed an unnamed senior investigating officer to 'carry out the technical issues around the investigation.' [HI] It is assumed that both statements referred to the same individual. But the above exhibit indicates his participation began on the afternoon of the day before.
It does not appear that DCI Young gave evidence at the inquiry. Nor was anyone questioned about the tactical support operation under his command, which appears to have commenced at least half an hour before Dr Kelly left his home -- a full 10 hours before his family reported him missing -- and to have terminated at about the time the body was found.
Has all of the evidence been considered?
Unlike a coroner's inquest, the inquiry lacked the authority to request new evidence or compel witnesses to appear. Testimony was not given under oath, nor was it subject to aggressive cross-examination. Key pathological evidence, especially, was not introduced or queried.
The pathologist failed to include assessment of rigor mortis or to establish an approximate time of death -- he offered a nine-hour window based on a temperature reading taken seven hours after gaining access to the body. And his medical evidence did not substantiate haemorrhage, self-infliction, or coproxamol overdose.
In view of the nature of Dr Kelly's work, it is not unreasonable to suspect he may have been killed by someone familiar with the use of techniques and substances which are difficult to detect. But it is unclear whether the necessary sophisticated and exhaustive toxicological analysis was performed to address such a possibility.
As reported by ACC Page, about 500 people were contacted and 300 statements taken in the course of the police investigation, of which five individuals refused to permit their statements to be forwarded to Lord Hutton. The inquiry heard from about 70 individuals whose evidence the police deemed relevant to the proceedings. Those not heard from included Paul Weaver, Mai Pederson, and Gabriella Kraz-Wadsak.
Farmer Paul Weaver may have been the last person to see Dr Kelly alive. The 19 July Guardian reported that Weaver had seen Dr Kelly in the fields near his home on the afternoon of 17 July, and later that day he and councillor John Melling had searched for Kelly in the area between Southmoor and Longworth. 
Mai Pederson, considered a friend and confidante of Dr Kelly's, was interviewed by detectives after his death but declined to give evidence to the inquiry. In a 25 January interview with the Mail on Sunday she claimed to have told police of his aversion to swallowing pills, his feeling about suicide, and his sense that his life might be in danger.  Yet ACC Page stated that his conversation with Pederson 'added nothing that was of relevance to my inquiry at all.' [HI]
Gabriella Kraz-Wadsak was identified at the inquiry as an officer in the German army who had worked with Dr Kelly in Iraq and been in contact with him days before his death. In reference to her interview, ACC Page judged it also to be '[n]othing that furthered my inquiries...' [HI]
Conceivably, the missing witness statements and pathology details could shed additional light on Dr Kelly's state of mind or behavior. The coroner has indicated that his review of the case will include evidence not considered by the inquiry.
What really happened?
Lord Hutton was unequivocal in his finding of suicide. With all due respect for his juridical competence, such conviction is not warranted by the evidence offered. The preponderance of circumstantial evidence and the exaggerated political context makes questionable a definitive ruling.
As the pathologist noted, Dr Kelly's death has the appearance of typical self-inflicted injury 'if one ignores all the other features of the case.' [HI]
Throughout the inquiry, Lord Hutton neglected to challenge contradictory evidence or to pursue testimony suggesting an alternative scenario. The most obvious explanation in support of suicide was consistently seized upon with little regard for Dr Kelly's known character and disposition.
Despite the circumstantial evidence, it is doubtful that this particular individual would have chosen such an awkward, messy, and potentially ineffectual method. And notwithstanding expert opinion, it is unlikely that in this specific situation he would have gone to his death without attempting to vindicate himself or to put his affairs in order.
All that has been shown thus far is the circumstance under which Dr Kelly was found dead in the woods. It has not been shown that he went there to kill himself, or that he bled to death from self-inflicted injuries. The inquiry did not reliably establish when or how he died.
Lord Hutton's official version remains unproven, the facts as documented by the inquiry incomplete. A coroner's inquest is needed to render a plausible explanation of events based on rigorous examination of the toxicological and pathological evidence.
It is left to Mr Gardiner, wielding the instruments of subpoena and sworn testimony, to probe more deeply into these questions and uncover the truth about David Kelly's death.
About the author:
RENAN TALIEVA is a freelance writer living in the western US, trained in
psychological research, with knowledge of suicidal thought and
behaviour. He states: 'I have closely followed the Kelly case from the beginning and
find it absolutely incredible that the public and the media accept
without question the official story.'
HI The Hutton Inquiry
HR Lord Brian Hutton, Report of the Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Dr David Kelly C.M.G., 28 January 2004
1. Danny Kemp, 'Kelly Coroner May Examine Unseen Evidence,' The Scotsman, 29 January 2004
2. Jim Rarey, 'The Murder Of David Kelly,' 14 October 2003
3. 'Our doubts about Dr Kelly's suicide,' The Guardian, 27 January 2004
4. 'A haunted man,' The Observer, 20 July 2003
5. 'Dr Kelly 'did not kill himself',' femail.uk, 26 January 2004
6. Tom Happold, 'Body matches Kelly's description,' The Guardian, 18 July 2003
7. Steven Morris and Hugh Muir, 'Mystery of last, lonely walk,' The Guardian, 19 July 2003
8. Chris Marsden, 'More questions on Dr Kelly’s death as a confidante rejects suicide claim,' World Socialist Web Site, 30 January 2004
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