Kelly had said: 'I'll be found dead in woods'

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Dr David Kelly predicted the manner of his death in a conversation with a senior British diplomat six months before his apparent suicide, the Hutton inquiry heard yesterday.

There were gasps in court 73 as David Broucher, Britain's permanent representative at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, recalled Dr Kelly's words: "I will probably be found dead in the woods."

He also revealed that the late scientist had been in secret contact with senior officials in Saddam Hussein's regime in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and had tried to persuade them to avert war by fully co-operating with the United Nations weapons inspectors.

Mr Broucher disclosed that Dr Kelly was deeply sceptical of the case for war, including the crucial "45-minutes threat", but believed that conflict was inevitable. This, the scientist believed, "would make him a liar" because he had been urging the Iraqis to co-operate while believing that war could not be avoided. He "would have betrayed his contacts, some of whom might be killed as a direct result of his actions".

Mr Broucher said that he had asked Dr Kelly what would happen if war broke out. "His reply was, which I took at the time to be a throwaway remark, he said, 'I will probably be found dead in the woods' ".

After learning that the scientist had been found with his wrists slashed in an Oxfordshire wood, Mr Broucher, a former ambassador to the Czech Republic, contacted the Foreign Office, asking to give evidence.

The diplomat said he had taken Dr Kelly's words to be a hint that the Iraqis might try to take revenge against him. But, he added: "I now see that he may have been thinking on rather different lines."

Earlier, the inquiry heard that the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, pressured the Foreign Affairs Select Committee not to question Dr Kelly on his views on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction when he appeared before it. The disclosure contradicted claims by government officials, including Alastair Campbell, that the scientist had been put forward to the public hearing to prevent accusations of a cover-up.

Donald Anderson, the committee's chairman, told Lord Hutton that Mr Hoon had demanded that Dr Kelly should only be questioned about his dealings with the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, and not the issue of WMD.

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