Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hutton reverses post mortem secrecy order

From The Times

January 27, 2010

Confidential documents on death of Dr David Kelly to be released

Frances Gibb, Legal Editor

Confidential medical evidence about the death of David Kelly, the expert in biological warfare, is to be released.

Lord Hutton, the retired law lord who chaired the inquiry into Dr Kelly’s death, has indicated that he will release to a group of doctors the medical records and results of the post-mortem examination that have to date remained unpublished. His 2004 report, commissioned by Tony Blair, concluded that Dr Kelly killed himself by cutting his wrist with a blunt gardening knife.

It was reported at the weekend that the medical reports including the post-mortem examination findings by Dr Nicholas Hunt, a pathologist, and also photographs of Dr Kelly’s body, are to remain classified for 70 years.

There is also a 30-year ban on publication of records provided to the inquiry but not produced in evidence.

The restrictions on publication were notified to a group of doctors who are challenging the Hutton verdict, arguing that the evidence does not support suicide.

A letter from a senior official at Oxfordshire Council said that Lord Hutton had requested that records provided to the inquiry that were not produced in evidence should be closed for 30 years and that the medical reports, including the post-mortem reports and photographs, be closed for 70 years.

But last night the doctors heard through their lawyers that the evidence would be released.

Last year they published a medical dossier saying that Lord Hutton’s conclusion that Dr Kelly killed himself by severing the ulnar artery in his left wrist after taking an overdose of prescription painkillers was untenable because the artery is small and hard to access; and severing it would not in any case cause death.

Dr Michael Powers, QC, one of the doctors involved, said last night: “Obviously we welcome this news that Lord Hutton is now going to disclose the medical reports and any post-mortem reports.

“We particularly welcome it if it can be assured that we shall have access to all the material, so that we consider it.

“Obviously as doctors we undertake not to make public anything that is of a personal or distressing nature to the family.”

Dr Kelly, a former UN weapons inspector, was exposed as the source of a BBC report questioning the government claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed in 45 minutes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dr Kelly - Hutton records locked for 70 years

David Kelly post mortem to be kept secret for 70 years as doctors accuse Lord Hutton of concealing vital information

By Miles Goslett
Last updated at 11:28 PM on 23rd January 2010
Comments (442)
Add to My Stories

Vital evidence which could solve the mystery of the death of Government weapons inspector Dr David Kelly will be kept under wraps for up to 70 years.

In a draconian – and highly unusual – order, Lord Hutton, the peer who chaired the controversial inquiry into the Dr Kelly scandal, has secretly barred the release of all medical records, including the results of the post mortem, and unpublished evidence.

The move, which will stoke fresh speculation about the true circumstances of Dr Kelly’s death, comes just days before Tony Blair appears before the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War.

It is also bound to revive claims of an establishment cover-up and fresh questions about the verdict that Dr Kelly killed himself.

Tonight, Dr Michael Powers QC, a doctor campaigning to overturn the Hutton findings, said: ‘What is it about David Kelly’s death which is so secret as to justify these reports being kept out of the public domain for 70 years?’

Campaigning Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who has also questioned the verdict that Dr Kelly committed suicide, said: ‘It is astonishing this is the first we’ve known about this decision by Lord Hutton and even more astonishing he should have seen fit to hide this material away.’

The body of former United Nations weapons inspector Dr Kelly was found in July 2003 in woods close to his Oxfordshire home, shortly after he was exposed as the source of a BBC news report questioning the Government’s claims that

Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which could be deployed within 45 minutes.

Lord Hutton’s 2004 report, commissioned by Mr Blair, concluded that Dr Kelly killed himself by cutting his wrist with a blunt gardening knife.

It was dismissed by many experts as a whitewash for clearing the Government of any culpability, despite evidence that it had leaked Dr Kelly’s name in an attempt to smear him.

Only now has it emerged that a year after his inquiry was completed, Lord Hutton took unprecedented action to ensure that the vital evidence remains a state secret for so long.

A letter, leaked to The Mail on Sunday, revealed that a 30-year ban was placed on ‘records provided [which were] not produced in evidence’. This is thought to refer to witness statements given to the inquiry which were not disclosed at the time.

In addition, it has now been established that Lord Hutton ordered all medical reports – including the post-mortem findings by pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt and photographs of Dr Kelly’s body – to remain classified information for 70 years.

The normal rules on post-mortems allow close relatives and ‘properly interested persons’ to apply to see a copy of the report and to ‘inspect’ other documents.

Lord Hutton’s measure has overridden these rules, so the files will not be opened until all such people are likely to be dead.

Last night, the Ministry of Justice was unable to explain the legal basis for Lord Hutton’s order.

The restrictions came to light in a letter from the legal team of Oxfordshire County Council to a group of doctors who are challenging the Hutton verdict.

Last year, a group of doctors, including Dr Powers, compiled a medical dossier as part of their legal challenge to the Hutton verdict.

They argue that Hutton’s conclusion that Dr Kelly killed himself by severing the ulnar artery in his left wrist after taking an overdose of prescription painkillers is untenable because the artery is small and difficult to access, and severing it could not have caused death.

In their 12-page opinion, they concluded: ‘The bleeding from Dr Kelly’s ulnar artery is highly unlikely to have been so voluminous and rapid that it was the cause of death. We advise the instructing solicitors to obtain the autopsy reports so that the concerns of a group of properly interested medical specialists can be answered.’

Tonight, Dr Powers, a former assistant coroner, added: ‘Supposedly all evidence relevant to the cause of death has been heard in public at the time of Lord Hutton’s inquiry. If these secret reports support the suicide finding, what could they contain that could be so sensitive?’

The letter disclosing the 70-year restriction was written by Nick Graham, assistant head of legal and democratic services at Oxfordshire Council.

It states: ‘Lord Hutton made a request for the records provided to the inquiry, not produced in evidence, to be closed for 30 years, and that medical (including post-mortem) reports and photographs be closed for 70 years.’

Nicholas Gardiner, the Chief Coroner for Oxfordshire, confirmed that he had seen the letter.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday today, he said: ‘I know that Lord Hutton made that recommendation. Someone told me at the time. Anybody concerned will be dead by then, and that is quite clearly Lord Hutton’s intention.’

Asked what was in the records that made it necessary for them to be embargoed, Mr Gardiner said: ‘They’re Lord Hutton’s records not mine. You’d have to ask him.’

He added that in his opinion Lord Hutton had embargoed the records to protect Dr Kelly’s children.

The inquest into Dr Kelly’s death was suspended before it could begin by the then Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer. He used the Coroners Act to designate the Hutton Inquiry as ‘fulfilling the function of an inquest’.

News that the records will be kept secret comes just days before Mr Blair gives evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry on Friday.

To date, Dr Kelly’s name has scarcely been mentioned at the inquiry. One source who held a private meeting with Sir John Chilcot before the proceedings began said that Sir John had admitted he ‘did not want to touch the Kelly issue’ .

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: ‘Any decision made by Lord Hutton at the time of his inquiry was entirely a matter for him.’

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said yesterday that it would not be possible to search their records during the weekend.

The Mail on Sunday was unable to contact Lord Hutton.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Alastair Campbell enters a tale end spin?

Iraq war inquiry: A week of spin, supine cabinets and legal jiggery-pokery

Chilcot inquiry hears Alastair Campbell defend the dossier, claims of spineless ministers and evidence of a legal volte-face

Richard Norton-Taylor, Friday 15 January 2010 17.15 GMT

Stung by attacks that he was being too soft, Sir John Chilcot hit back. "We have not been trying to ambush witnesses or score points," he said. "We are not here to provide public sport or entertainment. The whole point of our approach has been to get to the facts."

That was before Christmas. His critics have since been largely silenced as the inquiry has been given illuminating, at times provocative, insights.

This week, it heard Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's spin doctor, insist he stood by "every single word" of the now discredited Iraq WMD dossier, which even officials responsible for drawing it up, including Sir John Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence committee, did not defend.

The next day Lord Turnbull, the cabinet secretary at the time, provided a refreshing antidote. He described Campbell's attacks on Clare Short, the then international development secretary, for being untrustworthy as "very poor".

In evidence as robust as anything Campbell offered, Turnbull praised Robin Cook, who resigned in protest at the imminent invasion. Cook was "absolutely spot on", said Turnbull. Cook died in 2005.

The inquiry is about to face its big test, whether its calm inquisitorial process is better than a more adversarial one, as it prepares next week to question Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff, and Geoff Hoon and Jack Straw, then defence and foreign secretaries. They will be followed by Lord Goldsmith, then attorney general, and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, who also resigned in protest at the invasion. Then it will be Blair's turn to appear.

The inquiry has identified five key issues: Blair's apparent determination to join George Bush in an invasion of Iraq to secure regime change with or without UN backing; the legality of the invasion; the Iraqi weapons dossier; military commanders being told to delay preparations for the invasion; and the failure to plan for the aftermath.

The common thread was the determination of Blair and his circle of close advisers to hide their true intentions, the evidence so far suggests.

Regime change

Blair's meeting with Bush at the president's ranch at Crawford, Texas, was a defining moment, the inquiry has heard. "I look back at Crawford as the moment that he [Blair] was saying, yes, there is a route through this that is an international, peaceful one and it is through the UN, but if it doesn't work, we will be willing to undertake regime change," Sir David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy adviser, told the inquiry.

Campbell revealed that Blair privately assured Bush: "We are absolutely with you in making sure that Saddam Hussein is faced up to his obligations and that Iraq is disarmed. If that can't be done diplomatically and it has to be done militarily, Britain will be there."

Turnbull went further. He suggested that Blair started as a "regime changer" but then realised he had first to go down the UN route. At Crawford the two leaders decided to "set a trap" for Saddam in the form of a UN-backed ultimatum, Turnbull said.


Wilmshurst told the Foreign Office when she resigned that she could not support military action without a second UN resolution. That was also the view, she said, which Goldsmith held before changing his advice on the eve of the crucial Commons vote on the war.

Leaked documents show that Goldsmith warned Blair in July 2002 that regime change was "not a legal basis for military action".

The inquiry has heard that Goldsmith saw Blair privately about his legal opinion, which he drew up on 7 March 2003, warning that Britain could be indicted under international law if it invaded Iraq without a second UN resolution. The cabinet was not shown this. Instead, Goldsmith published a short statement on 17 March, the eve of the Commons vote, saying that military action without a second UN resolution was legal after all. This did not constitute a proper legal opinion, lawyers say.

The dossier

Campbell defended every word of the dossier, even Blair's assertion in the foreword that the assessed intelligence had "established beyond doubt" that Saddam was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons. Lord Butler, one of Turnbull's predecessors as cabinet secretary, has described Blair's claims as "disingenuous".

Delay in military preparation

Lord Boyce, head of the armed forces at the time of the Iraq invasion, told the inquiry he had been unable to prepare British troops properly for war because the government did not want the plans to become public knowledge. He said Hoon banned him from talking to senior officers responsible for getting supplies ready for war.

The inquiry has heard that as a result, orders for military equipment needed for Iraq were also delayed.

Failure to prepare for aftermath

All witnesses have expressed astonishment at the failure to plan for the aftermath of an invasion and the lack of intelligence about the state of Iraq.

There was "a touching belief [in Washington] that we shouldn't worry so much about the aftermath because it was all going to be sweetness and light", Edward Chaplin, head of the Middle East department of the Foreign Office at the time, told the inquiry.

Describing Iraq after the invasion, Lieutenant General Frederick Viggers, Britain's senior military representative in Baghdad in 2003, said: "It was rather like going to the theatre and seeing one sort of play and realising you were watching a tragedy as the curtains came back."

Witnesses have presented a picture of a supine cabinet which did not ask questions about the legality, the necessity, or the consequences of war.