They cut lonely figures. Behind a coffin the colour of light oak, wreathed with a single swathe of white roses and lilies, came four women. First was Janice Kelly, the widow of the government weapons expert David Kelly, her face obscured by a heavy black hat. Behind came their three daughters, walking abreast, all bare-headed in the hot, bright Oxfordshire sunlight.
No one followed them. The solitary bell that tolled mournfully as they walked slowly to the church door seemed only to underscore their isolation. It was a reminder that at the heart of the public furore about whether the Government exaggerated the case for war with Iraq, lay a very private tragedy.
Mrs Kelly had asked the media to stay away from the church, St Mary's in Longworth, near Harrowdown Hill - the place where Dr Kelly ended his life just two days after he was assaulted by a fusillade of 179 questions when appearing before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
Only one reporter and a single pooled television camera were, with the agreement of the family, in evidence as the cortege of three black limousines approached the picturesque, castellated 13th-century church. The family had last attended together there only months ago for the wedding of one of the daughters, Rachel. Yesterday she and her twin, Ellen, 30, and their elder sister Sian, 32, were there before the same vicar, the Rev Roy Woodhams, but this time his white stole was worn as a symbol of hoped-for resurrection rather than celebration.
They tried very hard to keep it a private affair. The coffin, which was topped with a blue cushion bearing the purple ribbon of Dr Kelly's CMG, a Foreign Office award, was carried by family members. Among the 160 mourners were regulars from the local pub where the scientist played billiards and cribbage. Also present were worshippers from the Abingdon congregation of the Baha'i faith which Dr Kelly had embraced four years before his death.
The service was Christian. The opening hymn was "You Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer (Bread of Heaven)", a reminder of the dead man's origins in the Rhondda Valley. But there was also a reading from the Baha'i prophet Baha'u'llah, about the importance in life of integrity, nobility and the need to avoid backbiting.
The reference was not lost, presumably, on John Prescott, who was there to represent the Government with which Dr Kelly had such an ambivalent relationship. The Deputy Prime Minister looked grim as he arrived, as well befitted a man who had the day before demanded that the No 10 spokesman Tom Kelly issue an unreserved apology for briefing journalists that the eminent scientist was an unreliable "Walter Mitty" character.
Notably absent was Dr Kelly's boss, the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, who was on holiday in America. The word was that he had been told to "lie low". Shots of him enjoying a day at the race track would only have added to Labour's embarrassment.
There was another significant mourner, Lord Hutton, the man who will lead the inquiry into the death of Dr Kelly. Among the questions facing him will be what Dr Kelly's role was in compiling the dossiers used to justify war on Iraq, what reservations he expressed about that to various BBC reporters, how Dr Kelly's name came to be made public and why four electro-cardiogram pads were attached to Dr Kelly's body.
It will not be the only investigation. Among the first of the mourners to arrive yesterday was the investigative journalist Tom Mangold, a family friend. He has begun work on a film about the death of the man who was Britain's leading expert on biological weapons.
Earlier in the day, Mr Mangold had launched a scathing attack on the Downing Street aide who had "come out from under his stone" to make his apology over the Walter Mitty remarks. Had Dr Kelly been a fantasist he would not have been the only Briton receiving intelligence information obtained by the US from Iraqi defectors, he said. Mr Mangold said footage he had obtained for his film would show the scientist at work in the Soviet Union. "You see him in an explosive chamber flanked by KGB people and interpreters," he said. "There is a kind of Monty Pythonesque scene where the Soviets are saying 'Well, we use this test chamber to make strawberry jam' or something. David just stands there and listens and waits and waits and then rather forensically he reminds them of something Leonid Brezhnev said a few years ago. He did the same thing with the infamous Toxic Taha [Dr Rihab Taha] in Iraq. He drove her into a theatrical nervous breakdown where she screamed at him that he would have to leave the country. This was David's great forte and it will not be easily replaced."
It was a day for such tributes - to a man who was commonly regarded as scholarly, courteous and deeply, dutifully patriotic. Then, with the Union flag flying at half mast by the church door, he was buried in the shadow of the north wall of the church, not much more than a mile from his favourite spot in the countryside and the place he went to die.
His family tried to keep it a personal occasion. But as he was buried church bells rang dolefully across the nation. As far apart as Truro Cathedral, Shrewsbury Abbey and St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, they tolled 59 times, once for each year of Dr Kelly's life. The effects of his death will ripple far wider than he could ever have imagined.
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