The fatal torments of a conscientious man being put through the wringer

Betrayal: The word conjures up high drama and the Bible. It has been heavy with portentous and fatal connotations throughout history.

It is also the notion that David Kelly used to describe his feelings to a colleague, one month before the Americans launched their war on Iraq last March. He said he had encouraged his Iraqi contacts to co-operate with the UN weapons inspectors as a way to avoid the conflict. But Britain's top germ warfare expert knew that the war was coming anyway.

"The implication was that if an invasion went ahead that would make him a liar and he would have betrayed his contacts, some of whom might be killed as a direct result of his actions," the Hutton inquiry heard yesterday.

Dr Kelly's remark that he would then "probably be found dead in the woods" was obviously far from a "throwaway" remark. It highlights the anguish of a tormented man who in February must have feared that his own work in Iraq, in establishing the baseline of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, was being used as an excuse to violently overthrow a regime.

By May, when still no weapons of mass destruction had been found and journalists were asking whether the war had been justified, he must have been wracked with guilt.

Dr Kelly and the other UN weapons inspectors had, after seven years in Iraq, built up a working relationship with their Iraqi colleagues. The inspectors did not trust the Iraqi scientists, but did respect them.

Dr Kelly was not the only one who kept open a secret channel to his contacts inside Iraq. Another former weapons inspector told me the other day that he had been telephoned after the war by an Iraqi colleague who had been briefly arrested by the Americans: "He said he wanted a chat ... to hear a friendly voice."

Like most of the weapons inspectors, Dr Kelly was pretty hawkish, having caught the Iraqis lying and cheating over several years. Indeed, some of the former Unscom team felt that the inspections ordered by Hans Blix would serve no purpose at all as the Iraqis had not had a fundamental change of heart about co-operating.

But Dr Kelly's position was further complicated by his unease about the September dossier, which had come back to haunt him with his remarks to journalists in May, and his appearance before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in July. We now know that the Ministry of Defence tried to prevent him being asked in public by the parliamentarians about his doubts.

After lying to his Iraqi friends to win their trust, he was expected to lie on television after being prepared by the MoD for his select committee appearance. Was his Bahai faith another contributing factor that may have pushed him to the brink, given the value placed on honesty by the sect?

Today the explanation that Dr Kelly could no longer live with his conscience seems a plausible - if tragic - explanation for why he took his own life, coupled with his desperation at being "put through the wringer." But it is also understandable that, in February, ambassador David Broucher thought that Dr Kelly might end up "dead in the woods" after being murdered by Iraqi agents bent on revenge.

At its height, Saddam Hussein's regime was a totalitarian one that would stop at nothing to defend itself. Although the weapons inspectors thought the Iraqis would not be so stupid as to kill a UN monitor, they had to take their chances after guns were pointed at them and one of them was involved in an attempted stabbing.

The former chief weapons inspector, Rolf Ekeus, moved into a private villa after receiving information about a plot to poison him. The white-haired Swede used to joke that one of the properties of the poison thalium is that it makes your hair turn white.