Friday, October 22, 2010

Post-mortem and toxicology reports released

22 October 2010 Last updated at 10:32

Kelly death due to 'self-inflicted injury,' says report

Previously secret evidence about the death of Iraq weapons expert Dr David Kelly has suggested that he died as a result of a "self-inflicted injury".

The post-mortem report into his 2003 death, published on Friday, said the main cause was bleeding from a wound to his wrist "entirely consistent with being inflicted with a bladed weapon".

The wound was "typical of a self-inflicted injury", it added.

Lord Hutton's 2004 inquiry concluded the scientist had committed suicide.

But a group of doctors have called for the case to be reopened, arguing that the suicide verdict was unsafe.

Dr Kelly's body was found in woods close to his Oxfordshire home in 2003, after it was revealed he had provided the information for a BBC News story casting doubt on the government's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capable of being fired within 45 minutes.

That claim was a key part of the government's justification for launching the war in Iraq.

'No secrecy'

Instead of a coroner's inquest, then Prime Minister Tony Blair asked Lord Hutton to conduct an investigation, which found Dr Kelly had died from blood loss after slashing his wrist with a knife.

Lord Hutton requested that the medical evidence which led him to that verdict should be kept secret for the sake of the scientist's family.

Details of the post-mortem examination and toxicology tests had been classified for 70 years but the Ministry of Justice said it was now publishing the details "in the interests of maintaining public confidence" in the Hutton inquiry's conclusions.

In the post-mortem, Home Office pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt said there was "no evidence" that "natural disease" had caused Dr Kelly's death and identified a "significant" wound to his left wrist which resulted in a "the loss of a significant volume of blood as noted at the scene".

"The complex of incised wounds over the left wrist are entirely consistent with having been inflicted with a bladed weapon," he concluded.

As to the nature of the wound, he added that its "orientation and arrangement...are typical of self-inflicted injury".

Key signs

In his report, Dr Hunt sets out in detail the factors he believes indicated suicide.

He says the removal of Dr Kelly's watch and spectacles are "features pointing towards this being an act of self-harm," as is the "relatively passive distribution of blood, the neat way in which the water bottle and its top were placed, the lack of obvious signs of trampling of the undergrowth or damage to clothing".

There was also a "total lack of classical defence wounds against a sharp weapon attack," he adds, and no "pathological evidence that this man had been subjected to a sustained, violent assault prior to his death".

Furthermore, Dr Hunt's report adds, there was no evidence at the scene or from the post-mortem that Dr Kelly's body had been "dragged or otherwise transported" to the scene where he was found. Some campaigners have suggested that Dr Kelly's body was moved after his death.

The toxicology report by forensic scientist Alexander Allan showed a high concentration of paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene in Dr Kelly's blood. The two make up co-proxamol - a prescription-only drug for the treatment of mild to moderate pain.

'Considerable' overdose

Campaigners have questioned whether the painkillers in Dr Kelly's system were enough to cause death - and Dr Hunt says in his report that "the levels of paracetemol and dextropropoxyphene in the blood are not particularly high and may not ordinarily have caused death in their own right".

But he adds that dextropropoxyphene can cause fatal heart rhythm abnormalities in people with low blood pressure as a result of bleeding and "underlying narrowing of the coronary arteries" - both factors which he said applied in Dr Kelly's case.

The toxicology report concluded Dr Kelly had taken a "considerable" overdose of the drug although he had died before all the paracetamol had been absorbed into his system. The impact of the overdose was lessened because of a lack of other depressants such as alcohol.

The report said: "The concentration of dextropropoxyhene in the blood is consistent with the ingestion of a large amount of co-proxamol and although it could represent a fatal overdose in certain circumstances, for example with other substances ... it is significantly lower than the average level in reported in fatal overdose cases."

Dr Hunt gives the cause of death as haemorrhage, wounds to the left wrist, co-proxamol ingestion and coronary artery damage.

Responding to the post-mortem's release, Lord Hutton denied that it had been concealed.

"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," he said in a statement.

Dr Kelly's family are not expected to make a statement.


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