'Secret' files tell tragic true story of David Kelly's lonely death

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The Independent Online

The publication of previously secret evidence about the death of Iraq weapons expert David Kelly failed to quell demands for a new inquest yesterday despite an unequivocal finding by a pathologist that the scientist died from a self-inflicted wound.

The post-mortem report on the death in 2003 of Dr Kelly, which had been the subject of a 70-year secrecy order, blamed his death on heavy blood loss from a "complex" of wounds to his left wrist which was exacerbated by an overdose of painkillers and significant heart disease. It also stated there was no evidence that the United Nations worker was attacked.

The 15-page document written by Home Office pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt was released by the Ministry of Justice at the request of Lord Hutton, the Law Lord who oversaw the public inquiry into Dr Kelly's death, in an attempt to answer growing concerns from legal and medical experts that important aspects of the tragedy remained unexplained. They questioned the likelihood that the cuts to the scientist's wrist were fatal.

Dr Kelly's body was found in woodland close to his Oxfordshire home in July 2003 after a torrid period in which it had been revealed that he was the source of a BBC story claiming Tony Blair's government had "sexed up" its dossier alleging that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, said he was publishing Dr Hunt's post-mortem report and a separate toxicology report "in the interests of maintaining public confidence" in Lord Hutton's inquiry, which found in 2004 that no one was to blame for failing to anticipate that the public outing and humiliation of Dr Kelly might lead to his death. The findings were widely derided as a whitewash.

Lord Hutton, who had asked that the documents remain sealed for 70 years, insisted that he had done so solely to protect Dr Kelly's widow and his two daughters from further distress. In a statement yesterday, he said: "My request was not a concealment of evidence because every matter of relevance had been examined or was available for examination during the public inquiry."

But the publication of the detailed findings of Dr Hunt, which go into graphic detail about the state of Dr Kelly's body and the intrusive procedures carried out to ascertain the cause of his death, was brushed aside by one leading expert, who said the disclosures offered "nothing new" and were a "sticking plaster" designed to close off calls for a new inquest.

Dr Michael Powers QC, a former coroner and one of five eminent doctors who wrote to The Times newspaper in August calling for a new hearing, said: "There is a need still to address many of the issues which have already been raised and which these reports do not address. I think it would be extraordinary if the Government feels this will close matters."

Attorney General Dominic Grieve raised hopes for a new inquest when he announced he was reviewing medical papers relating to Dr Kelly's death to decide whether he could support a request to the courts for a fresh inquiry. It is understood that the review is expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Dr Hunt's report provides a vivid picture of the final moments of Dr Kelly, who was a leading member of the UN's inspection teams in Iraq. The document details how Dr Kelly removed his glasses and wristwatch before inflicting "multiple incised wounds" to his left wrist with a Sandvik gardener's knife. To his side, the scientist had placed an open bottle of Evian mineral water, propped up against some broken branches.

Noting evidence of heavy bloodstaining on Dr Kelly's clothing and a large patch of blood beneath the knife, the pathologist concluded: "It is my opinion that the main factor involved in bringing about the death of David Kelly is the bleeding from the incised wounds to his left wrist. Had this not occurred he may well not have died at this time."

The pathologist said that the prescribed painkillers taken by the scientist, co-proxamol, were likely to have hastened Dr Kelly's death by slowing his heart, which in turn bore evidence of advanced disease. Both factors "would both have played a part in bringing about death more certainly and more rapidly than would have otherwise been the case".

There was no evidence of any struggle at the scene or on Dr Kelly's body, Dr Hunt added: "The location of death is also of interest as it is clearly a very pleasant yet relatively private spot of the type that is sometimes chosen by people intent upon self-harm."

Dr Powers insisted that questions remain about the amount of blood found at the scene and uncertainty about the number of pills taken by Dr Kelly.

But another signatory to the letter to The Times said he was now satisfied that Dr Kelly had killed himself. Professor Julian Bion, an intensive care expert at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, said: "Any one of the injuries or disease processes identified – had it existed by itself – would not have been sufficient in itself to cause death. When you assemble it together, you get a different picture... The information provided satisfies me that this was suicide."

A solicitor for the Kelly family said they would not be commenting on the documents.

What the documents tell us about the conspiracy theories

1 Allegation

There was insufficient evidence of blood loss at the scene to explain Dr Kelly's death as being from the cuts to his left wrist. One witness said there was only a patch of a blood the size of a coin on his trousers and little blood on plants around the body.

Post-mortem finding

"There was...a pool of blood beneath the knife which was approximately 8-10cms by 4-4cms..." "The arterial injury has resulted in the loss of a significant volume of blood as noted at the scene."

What does it mean?

The pathologist found extensive bloodstains on Dr Kelly's clothing and a pool of blood beneath the knife he used to inflict his wounds. The finding indicates that the weapons scientist did indeed lose a large quantity of blood, contrary to suggestions from other witnesses that there was little evidence of blood at the scene. The report found that Dr Kelly's death was directly due to this blood loss.

2 Allegation

The injuries suffered byDr Kelly were relatively minor, and the ulnar artery which was cut in his wrist was too narrow to create a fatal level of blood loss

Post-mortem finding

"There was a series of incised wounds of varying depth running across the front of the left wrist. The complex of wounds extended over 8cms from side to side and approximately 5cms from top to bottom."

"He has evidence of a significant incised wound to the left wrist, in the depth of which his left ulnar artery has been completely severed."

What does it mean?

Dr Kelly suffered multiple incisions to his wrist, one of which completely severed an artery, inflicted over a period of minutes before his death. Dr Hunt was satisfied that the wounds were sufficient to cause fatal blood loss.

3 Allegation

A third party or parties were involved with Dr Kelly's death, subjecting him to an assault and possibly transporting the body to the woodland where he was found.

Post-mortem finding

"There is no positive pathological evidence that this man has been subjected to a sustained, violent assault prior to his death."

"There is no evidence from the post-mortem or my observations at the scene to indicate that the deceased had been dragged or otherwise transported to the location at which his body was found."

What does it mean?

Combined with a lack of defence injuries and evidence that the wrist wounds were inflicted while Dr Kelly was still alive, there is no evidence of the involvement of a violent assassin.

4 Allegation

The knife found beside Dr Kelly and assumed to be the blade he used to kill himself did not have any fingerprints on it.

Post-mortem finding

"A white metal Sandvik pruning-type knife or gardener's knife with its blade extended from the handle [was found]. There was bloodstaining over both handles."

What does it mean?

The post-mortem makes no finding about the presence of fingerprints. This aspect of Dr Kelly's death remains unexplained.

5 Allegation

Dr Kelly did not take a sufficient quantity of the painkilling drug co-proxamol (as few as six to eight pills) to cause his death or contribute to it.

Post-mortem finding

"The absolute levels of paracetamol and dextropropoxphene in the blood are not particularly high and may not ordinarily have caused the death in their own right. In this particular case, however, even these levels may be relevant."

"Dextropropoxphene is an opiod drug which is relatively rapidly absorbed into the blood following ingestion. It has an analgesic effect and hence would be expected to deaden the perception of pain due to injury."

What does it mean?

This is a crucial finding by Dr Hunt. When combined with the blood loss from the wrist wounds, the drugs could have affected the rhythm of Dr Kelly's heart, slowing it down and quickening his death. The analgesic effect of painkillers would have also helped Dr Kelly to inflict the wrist wounds.

6 Allegation

Dr Kelly suffered a heart attack due to stress and his wounds were inflicted after death.

Post-mortem finding

"It is noted that he has a significant degree of coronary artery disease and this may have played some small part in the rapidity of death but not the major part of the cause of death."

"There was extensive reddening around the whole injury complex indicating they had been inflicted whilst the victim was alive."

What does it mean?

Although Dr Kelly had the signs of "silent" or undiagnosed heart disease, he did not suffer a heart attack. Together with the loss of blood and the effects of the painkillers, the damage to his heart may have hastened his death. Evidence on his body shows that the wounds were inflicted over several minutes while he was still alive.

Cahal Milmo