A retired pathologist cast further doubt yesterday on the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the government weapons inspector said to have committed suicide in 2003. She also criticised Lord Hutton's handling of the inquiry into his death. Dr Jennifer Dyson joined other experts questioning the official finding that Kelly bled to death. She argued it was more likely that the 59-year-old scientist suffered a heart attack due to the stress he had been placed under.
The intervention came as Michael Howard, the former Conservative Party leader, became the most prominent politician to call for a full inquest into the inspector's death. He told The Mail on Sunday that questions over the death meant that calling a full inquiry would be "entirely appropriate".
Kelly, Britain's most senior inspector in Iraq, was found dead in woods near his home in Oxfordshire. He was revealed to be the source behind a BBC news story which accused Tony Blair's former communications chief Alastair Campbell of "sexing up" the so-called "dodgy dossier" about Iraq's weapons.
Kelly had taken a non-lethal dose of painkillers and had cut his left wrist. A small knife was found near his body. Unusually for such a sudden and high-profile death, Kelly's case has never been the subject of a full coroner's inquiry. Instead, the case was examined during the Hutton inquiry. Lord Hutton concluded that Kelly had principally died from "bleeding from incised wounds to his left wrist which Dr Kelly had inflicted on himself with the knife found beside his body". He added that Kelly's death was hastened by the 29 pills he swallowed, and coronary heart disease.
Many medical experts have asked why there was so little blood, and assert that severing the ulnar artery would in itself be insufficient to cause death. Conspiracies surrounding the death were further fuelled by revelations that Kelly had told friends that if Iraq were invaded, "I'll probably be found dead in the woods".
Last week a group of nine experts, including former coroners and a professor of intensive-care medicine, wrote a letter to The Times questioning Lord Hutton's verdict. "Insufficient blood would have been lost to threaten life," they wrote. "Absent a quantitative assessment of the blood lost and of the blood remaining in the great vessels, the conclusion that death occurred as a consequence of haemorrhage is unsafe."
Dr Dyson amplified last week's criticism, saying that a coroner would probably have recorded an open verdict in the absence of absolute proof that suicide was intended. "I don't believe he died of a loss of blood," she told The Independent on Sunday. "I don't know that the presence of the knife in itself can be taken as evidence of intent to kill himself, but there seem to have been a lot of pills in his stomach, which makes me think that he did indeed intend to commit suicide. There appears to be good reason to think he was in a state of distress, so my suspicion would be that he had a coronary attack, brought on by the circumstances he found himself in and the stress that that entailed.
"Very often you cannot say with confidence that a person has had a coronary," Dr Dyson added. "It is a pity that Hutton usurped the function of the coroner in this case. It was a silly thing to do. It should have been an open verdict, as suicides often are, unless there is pretty incontrovertible evidence. I think a trained coroner would have brought in an open verdict. Also, I don't understand why Hutton chose to keep the papers under lock and key for 70 years."
The nine who wrote to The Times have asked Kenneth Clarke, the Secretary of State for Justice, to make the relevant medical records available to experts. Yesterday he was reported to have decided that the unanswered questions about Kelly's death can no longer be ignored.
A spokesman for Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, said he "remains concerned" and was looking at how to take the matter further.
Evidence: Ten reasons to query the suicide verdict
1. An elbow injury had left David Kelly's right arm too weak to cut his wrist.
2. He had "difficulty swallowing pills" so he couldn't have swallowed 29 tablets.
3. Medical records about the case have been classified for 70 years, implying there's something to hide.
4. There were no fingerprints on the pruning knife used to cut his wrist.
5. He anticipated his own death, predicting he would "probably be found dead in the woods" if Iraq was invaded.
6. Doctors doubt the severed artery would have caused enough blood loss for him to have died of a haemorrhage.
7. The detective who found his body, Constable Graham Coe, said there wasn't much blood, so how could he have died of blood loss after slitting his wrist?
8. Two paramedics at the scene were sceptical the "wrist wound we saw" could have caused his death.
9. There was no evidence he was depressed; he was looking forward to his daughter's wedding.
10. His death certificate was not signed by a doctor or coroner and does not state a place of death.