David Kelly, Victim of Another War?

Scientist at the heart of struggle between No 10 and BBC found dead

July 19, 2003
By Tom Baldwin, Michael Evans, David Charter and Adam Fresco

David Kelly was said to be under "considerable stress" after being named as a BBC source on the WMD dossier

TONY Blair yesterday promised to launch an independent inquiry into the apparent suicide of Dr David Kelly, who Downing Street believes was the source for BBC allegations against the Government.

The discovery yesterday morning of a body matching Dr Kelly’s description, in an Oxfordshire wood close to the weapons expert’s home, is already causing deep anguish and bitter mutual recrimination in Westminster.

The Ministry of Defence adviser was said to be under “considerable stress” after being named as a possible source for BBC claims that Alastair Campbell had “sexed up” an intelligence dossier on Iraq to strengthen the case for war.

Dr Kelly, 59, was dismissed as “chaff” by an MP when he gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into the allegations on Tuesday. The previous day, he had also been subject to a private 45-minute cross-examination by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The former Iraq weapons inspector and Porton Down scientist had admitted meeting the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan on May 22 but stated he could not have been the source for the story broadcast seven days later.

His wife, Janice, reported him missing after he failed to return home in Abingdon on Thursday evening. After a massive police search, the body of a man was found yesterday morning at Harrowdown Hill, a beauty spot about two miles from their home.

Although the cause of death will not be established until next week, it is widely believed he committed suicide.

Mr Blair’s official spokesman, speaking as the Prime Minister arrived in Tokyo, said there would be an independent judicial inquiry into the circumstances leading to Dr Kelly’s death. This is expected to include questions about whether he was the BBC’s source, as well as the way his name emerged in the media and the decision to subject him to cross-examination by MPs after he told the MoD about his meeting with Mr Gilligan.

Mr Blair, who spent a long time talkng to senior ministers and officials on his flight, was “obviously very distressed for the family”, said his spokesman.

Fingers are already being pointed at Mr Campbell, Downing Street’s communications director, as well as the BBC, the select committees and the media — which Dr Kelly had complained was hounding him.

Mr Campbell, who learnt the news on his return to London from Washington this morning, is understood to be deeply shocked but unlikely to quit. Friends said he had done “nothing wrong” and the tragedy showed “something has gone horribly wrong with our political and media culture”.

Iain Duncan Smith suggested that Mr Blair should consider cutting short his visit to the Far East and return to the UK for a possible re-call of Parliament.

He said: “There are many questions that will need to be asked over the coming days and I think if I were the Prime Minister I would want to be back here to deal with these.”

A BBC spokesman said: “We are shocked and saddened to hear what has happened and we extend our deepest sympathies to Dr Kelly’s family and friends. While Dr Kelly’s family await the formal identification, it would not be appropriate for us to make any further statement.”

But Robert Jackson, Dr Kelly’s local MP, said that if he had committed suicide, the BBC was to blame. The corporation should have confirmed that Dr Kelly was not the source after the select committee reached that conclusion, the Tory MP for Wantage said.

He said: “I am obviously very concerned about this and I think the responsibility of the BBC should not go unmentioned. The management refused to say he was not the source Gilligan had given them.

“The question then is pressure he came under. The pressure was significantly increased by the fact the BBC refused to make it clear he was not the source.”

One of Dr Kelly’s close friends, the veteran journalist Tom Mangold, said that the scientist believed he was the main source behind Mr Gilligan’s story.

The claim contradicts Dr Kelly’s insistence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that he did not believe he was the prime source.

“I guess he could not cope with the firestorm that developed after he gave what he regarded as a routine briefing to Gilligan,” Mr Mangold told the BBC Radio 4 PM programme.

“He felt he was Gilligan’s major source. As I recall it, Andrew Gilligan said the man he spoke to was an expert on weapons of mass destruction and they met at a London hotel.

“If that’s true that sounds to me like Dave Kelly.”

Asked why he had told the committee that he was not the main source, Mr Mangold said: “I think his famous precision let him down there, because what he said to me was that there were parts of the Gilligan transmission that he did not recognise, but that did not mean that he wasn’t the main source.”

Richard Ottaway, a Tory member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said the committee reconvened simply to ask Mr Gilligan to name his source because it was quite clear Dr Kelly was not the source. “There are games going on here, there are people trying to make points, trying to shut down avenues of inquiry, trying to open up things.

“But putting up Dr Kelly was just part of the distraction and it’s had the most ghastly result and I am deeply critical of those involved.”

A police search team found Dr Kelly’s body lying in a wooded copse two miles from where he lived in the small village of Southmoor, less than ten hours after he was reported missing late on Thursday night.

A police source said that the body was beneath the trees and they had ruled out hanging, an overdose or use of a gun in the death. They also said that natural causes had been ruled out. Dr Kelly was a keen walker and had left at 3pm. When he had not returned by midnight one of his three daughters rang police to report his disappearance.

Detectives searched his home and it is believed that they took away a computer and several files from the house. It is not known if he left a note.

One of his oldest friends told yesterday how Dr Kelly would not have liked being in the limelight. From his home in America, Roger Avery, a professor of virology, said: “I feel he got himself caught up in the middle of all that against his wishes because he is not a publicity-seeker.”

The first hint that Dr Kelly was about to get caught up in the row over whether the Government had deliberately “sexed up” the intelligence dossier was when he returned to his office in Whitehall from a week’s trip to Iraq.

He was shown a transcript of the evidence Mr Gilligan had given to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and recognised certain technical references to be ones he had divulged during his lunch with the reporter.

He wrote a memo to his line manager explaining his fears that he might have been the informant for Mr Gilligan’s story on the BBC Today programme. Later, however, when Dr Kelly appeared before the committee, he said he could not have been the main source because of allegations that bore no resemblance to the conversation he had with the journalist on May 22.


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