Saturday, October 23, 2010

Doctors 'not satisfied by medical documents'

David Kelly campaigners say suicide 'still not proved beyond doubt' despite release of secret files

By Michael Seamark

Last updated at 10:59 AM on 23rd October 2010

Doctors pushing for a full inquest into the death of David Kelly have not been satisfied by secret medical documents which insist he committed suicide.

Post-mortem records for the Iraq weapons inspector, which were originally ordered by the Hutton Inquiry to be kept under wraps for 70 years, were released yesterday.

They concluded he bled to death in a case 'typical of self-inflicted injury' but experts still have questions about how much blood was at the scene.

Ministers had hoped that releasing the reports might put an end to the controversy surrounding Dr Kelly’s death, which has led some to claim he was murdered.

But Dr Michael Powers QC, one of several experts calling for an inquest, described the decision to release the medical records as like ‘some sort of sticking plaster’.

Fellow ­campaigner Dr Christopher Burns-Cox said: ‘This suicide has not been proved beyond any doubt.’

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke decided to release the documents in an attempt to stifle conspiracy theories surrounding the scientist’s death in 2003.

The two detailed reports appeared to confirm Lord Hutton’s conclusion that Dr Kelly took his own life.

His body was found in woods near his Oxfordshire home shortly after he was identified as the source of a BBC story that Tony Blair’s government had ‘sexed up’ its ­dossier on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

No coroner’s inquest has been held because the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, used an obscure law to appoint Lord ­Hutton to chair a public inquiry into the death.

Law lord Lord Hutton accepted the findings of Home Office pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt that Dr Kelly died after severing an artery in his wrist and swallowing an ­overdose of drugs.

Lord Hutton initially ruled that the post-mortem examination and toxicology reports be kept secret for 70 years, but Mr Clarke intervened and ordered their release yesterday.

Dr Hunt’s report said the weapons inspector died from a combination of bleeding from his wrist, an overdose of co-proxamol tablets and ‘clinically silent coronary artery disease’.

But Dr Powers, who is campaigning to overturn Lord Hutton’s ­findings, said there was nothing new in the documents and there was still conflict over how much blood was at the scene.

He said Dr Kelly could also have taken ‘far less than 29 tablets’ and, if he had taken only six or eight ‘one might draw completely different conclusions’.

‘It is extraordinary that it has taken somewhere in the region of nine months for the Ministry of Justice to decide which information should be made public,’ he said.

‘This is some sort of sticking plaster to address the inadequacy of the Hutton Inquiry. These matters need to be dealt with at a coroner’s court.

‘This may cause distress to the family but there has been distress to them over the years because there has not been an adequate inquiry where all the issues are addressed.’

Mr Clarke said he was releasing the documents ‘in the interests of maintaining public confidence’ in Lord Hutton’s inquiry but added that he was ‘mindful that the contents may be distressing’.

Dr Kelly’s family does not want an inquest and yesterday their ­solicitor, Peter Jacobsen, said they would be making no comment on the release of the documents.

Lord Hutton denied claims that the reports had been concealed.

He said: ‘There was no secrecy surrounding the post-mortem report because it had always been available for examination and questioning by counsel representing the interested parties during the inquiry.’

The release of the documents came as former Cabinet minister Clare Short accused Tony Blair of having ‘blood on his hands’ over Dr Kelly.

She told Radio 5 the former prime minister and his spin doctor Alastair Campbell ‘bear a guilt’ for driving the scientist to his death.

Miss Short said the weapons inspector came under ‘enormous strain’ when the Labour government outed him as the source of the sexed-up dossier story.

Bloodstains, a drugs overdose and a 'silent' heart disease

The 15-page post-mortem report and six-page toxicology document contain highly intimate details of the discovery and conditions of Dr Kelly's body. Here Michael Seamark lists some of the questions surrounding his death and analyses whether the new documents provide credible answers


Was this where Dr Kelly actually died? His death certificate says, ‘Found dead at Harrowdown Hill, Longworth, Oxon,’ but normally the document would not say ‘found at’. Could this imply – as some have claimed – that his body had been moved?

Shortly after 2pm on July 18, 2003, pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt entered a hastily erected police tent to find Dr Kelly, dressed in a green Barbour waxed jacket, lying dead on his back, his left arm flexed at the elbow and right fist clenched over his chest.

His mobile phone, bifocal spectacles and three packs of ten co-proxamol painkiller tablets were found in a jacket pocket – with only one tablet remaining in its blister pack.

Neatly propped against branches was an open bottle of Evian water with smeared blood on both bottle and nearby bottle top.

To his left was a Barbour cap, with blood over the lining and its peak, and his wristwatch, lying face down and showing some blood staining.

Next to this was a Sandvik gardener’s pruning knife, its blade extended, with bloodstaining over the handle and the blade and a pool of blood beneath ‘approximately 8-10 by 4-5cm’.

The pathologist said there were no ­obvious signs of trampling of the undergrowth or damage to clothing and said the location was 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’.

He added: ‘The fact that the watch appears to have been removed whilst blood was already flowing suggests that it has been removed deliberately in order to facilitate access to the wrist.

‘The removal of the watch in this way and indeed the removal of the spectacles are features pointing towards this being an act of self-harm.’

There was no pathological evidence to suggest Dr Kelly had been restrained or subjected to ‘sustained, violent assault prior to his death’ or ‘manual strangulation, ligature strangulation or the use of an arm hold’.

Nor was there any evidence that he ‘had been dragged or otherwise transported to the location at which his body was found’.


Much of the controversy surrounding the death has centred on eyewitness accounts highlighting a lack of blood around the body. Detective Constable Graham Coe, one of those who attended the scene, said: ‘I certainly didn’t see a lot of blood anywhere. There was some on his left wrist but it wasn’t on his clothes.’ This reinforced suspicions he might have been killed elsewhere.

After the preliminary observations, Dr Kelly’s body was undressed and minutely examined for ‘bloodstaining and contamination’.

On clothing, Dr Hunt said he found bloodstaining: over the front of the right side of his shirt, under the blood-stained palm of Dr Kelly’s left hand; over the right groin and tops of both his thighs; a ­heavier patch over the right knee; over the right elbow and right shoulder; a light patch inside the right knee; heavy bloodstaining over the left arm, including the part inside the jacket sleeve; and over the back of the left elbow.

On the body he found: heavy bloodstaining over the left arm; lighter bloodstaining over the back of the fingers and palm of the right hand; several small blood spots on the neck, cheek and ear.

Dr Hunt said there was also bloodstaining and a pool of blood running from the scientist’s left arm for a distance of two or three inches. There was also evidence at the scene that Dr Kelly had vomited.


The group of doctors pressing for a full inquest say blood from the small artery severed by Dr Kelly would have clotted before he could bleed to death. In addition, a close friend, Dr Mai Pedersen, says an injury to his right hand had left the weapons inspector unable even to cut meat with it, calling into question whether he could have cut his wrist in the way described by the Hutton Report.

Dr Kelly’s corpse was subsequently taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for a full post-mortem examination.

Under the heading ‘signs of sharp force injury’, Dr Hunt recorded a series of incised wounds across the front of the left wrist extending 8cm from side to side and 5cm from top to bottom.

The largest wound was 6cm long and between 1cm and 1.5cm deep and had completely severed the ulnar artery and partially severed the ulnar nerve. Two deep wounds around 2cm long were at the crease of the wrist.

He also found multiple fine, superficial incisions. He said: ‘The complex of incised wounds over the left wrist are entirely consistent with having been inflicted by a bladed weapon. The knife present at the scene would be a suitable candidate.’

Dr Hunt said many of the injuries suggested they had been inflicted over a ‘reasonable amount of time – minutes rather than seconds or hours before death.’

He added that the arrangement of the wounds over the left wrist were typical of self-inflicted injury. Also typical of this were small so-called ‘tentative’ or ‘hesitation’ marks. He said there was a total lack of classical ‘defence’ wounds against a sharp weapon attack.


While much has been made of the alleged lack of blood at the scene, and questions raised about how many tablets Dr Kelly had taken, little weight has been placed on his ‘clinically silent’ heart disease.

Examination of his heart revealed he had ‘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 in the cause of death’.

The post-mortem report found some arteries were between 60 and 70 per cent narrower than normal and forensic examination of the organ ‘raised the possibility of ­previous ischaemia/­infarction’ – so-called ‘silent heart attacks’.


Only a small amount of the drug co-proxamol was found in Dr ­Kelly’s body, leading doctors to argue that the dose doesn’t correspond with the volume of opened packs of ­tablets found with his body.

Forensic scientist Alexander Allan analysed blood, urine and bodily fluid samples taken from the weapons inspector’s heart, stomach and liver.

He found traces of paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene – the active ingredients of the prescription-only drug co-proxamol.

The amount of dextropropoxyphene in the blood was ‘consistent with the ingestion of a large amount of co-proxamol’ but although it could represent a fatal overdose in certain circumstances, it was ­significantly lower than the average level in recorded overdoses.

The level of paracetamol found in the stomach was unlikely to be fatal but because of vomiting, Dr Allan said some of the drug ­contents might have been lost and it was likely that the bulk of the tablets ingested had passed into Dr Kelly’s circulatory system.

The forensic scientist concluded that the ‘blood paracetamol and blood dextropropoxyphene levels indicate the consumption of a ­considerable co-proxamol overdose’ but Dr Kelly had died before all the paracetamol had been absorbed into his system.

Dr Hunt’s report said the toxicology findings indicate Dr Kelly ­‘consumed a significant quantity of these tablets either on the way to or at the scene itself’.

While the blood/drug levels were not particularly high and ‘may not ordinarily have caused death in their own right,’ co-proxamol may cause fatally abnormal heart rhythms – particularly if there is low blood pressure as a result of bleeding and underlying narrowing of the coronary arteries.


Dr Hunt’s conclusions were ­unequivocal – that Dr Kelly killed himself at the place he was found. However, this will not silence the calls for a full inquest.

Dr Hunt said: ‘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.

‘On the balance of probabilities, it is likely that the ingestion of an excess number of co-proxamol ­tablets coupled with apparently clinically silent coronary artery disease would both have played a part in bringing about death more certainly and more rapidly than would have otherwise been the case.’


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