Michael Howard leads MPs' call for full inquest into the death of weapons inspector Dr David Kelly
By Simon Walters and Glen Owen
Last updated at 10:38 AM on 15th August 2010
Former Tory leader Michael Howard tonight put himself at the head of a powerful all-party campaign to force a full inquest into the death of Ministry of Defence weapons expert Dr David Kelly.
Mr Howard, Conservative leader when the Hutton Report found Dr Kelly took his own life, said: ‘In view of the growing number of relevant questions that have arisen and cast doubt on the conclusions reached by Lord Hutton, I believe it would now be entirely appropriate for a full inquest to be held.
‘Recent evidence by the first police officer on the scene, together with new statements by doctors, raise serious questions which should be considered. This has been on my mind for quite a while and recent events have crystallised my view.’
Mr Howard, now a leading Tory peer, was backed by Labour leadership challenger Diane Abbott, two former Labour Defence Ministers who served in Tony Blair’s Government and a number of senior Tory, Lib Dem and Labour MPs.
They spoke out amid signs that the Government is prepared to act in response to the growing demands to resolve questions over the circumstances of Dr Kelly’s death.
It emerged yesterday that Attorney General Dominic Grieve is ready to meet the group of senior doctors who last week claimed Dr Kelly could not have committed suicide in the way described in Lord Hutton’s report.
Mr Grieve has already indicated he is ready to ask the High Court to order a full inquest if he believes there is sufficient evidence to cast doubt on Lord Hutton’s verdict.
And Justice Minister Ken Clarke was yesterday urged by a Cabinet colleague to scrap Labour’s unprecedented 70-year embargo on releasing Dr Kelly’s medical records, including the results of the post-mortem examination.
‘If we are going to find out how Kelly died, the first requirement is to allow his medical details to be scrutinised,’ said the Cabinet Minister, who asked not to be named.
In tomorrow's Mail on Sunday, Dr Michael J. Powers QC, a doctor and barrister behind the latest demand by medical experts for a full inquiry, delivers a fresh challenge to Lord Hutton’s account of the way Dr Kelly is said to have slashed his wrists.
‘A fatal haemorrhage from a severed ulnar artery is so improbable that more evidence was essential before such a conclusion could be reached,’ says Dr Powers.
Dr Kelly’s body was discovered in woods near his Oxfordshire home in July 2003, shortly after he was exposed as the source of a BBC news report questioning Tony Blair’s grounds for war in Iraq.
Unusually, no coroner’s inquest was held into his death. The only official verdict has come from the Hutton Inquiry, commissioned by Mr Blair, which concluded that Dr Kelly, 59, died from loss of blood after cutting his left wrist with a blunt gardening knife and taking an overdose of co-proxamol, a painkiller commonly used for arthritis.
Critics regarded the report as a ‘whitewash’, crippled by an assumption from the outset that suicide was the only possible conclusion – and a desire by the report’s author, Lord Hutton, to spare Dr Kelly’s family additional distress.
The Mail on Sunday has led the way in reporting experts’ doubts over the Hutton verdict. We revealed that a close female confidante of Dr Kelly believed it was impossible for him to have killed himself by slashing his wrist because his right cutting hand was too weak to slice into steak. The woman, Mai Pederson, has confirmed this to Mr Grieve.
We also disclosed last year that 13 doctors had mounted a legal challenge to the finding of suicide on the grounds that a cut to the ulnar artery, which is small and difficult to access, could not have caused death. Their 12-page dossier is also now in Mr Grieve’s hands.
And last week, the first interview with the policeman who found Dr Kelly’s body cast further doubt on the verdict that he died of blood loss. Detective Constable Graham Coe revealed he had not seen ‘much blood’ around the body. DC Coe, 63, also said police searched Dr Kelly’s home the day after his death for papers ‘of a sensitive nature’ about Iraq.
Significantly, the demands for a full inquest now command support from all sides in Parliament, not just those who opposed the war.
Mr Howard gave full support to the conflict, though later accused Mr Blair of lying over the reasons for it.
Labour leadership contender Miss Abbott said: ‘When so many doctors have expressed genuine concerns, I think it would be a good idea to have a full inquest so we can set this matter to rest once and for all.’
Lord Gilbert, a Defence Minister in the Blair Government, said: ‘If serious medical people are agitated about the cause of Dr Kelly’s death, I see no reason why there should not be an inquest to resolve these doubts.’
Fellow former Labour Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle said: ‘Politicians who know nothing about medicine have no right to gainsay senior physicians who say the cause of death in the Hutton Report does not stack up. An inquest must be approved.’
Senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd, an ardent Labour advocate of the Iraq War, said: ‘If serious people with no political motive are not satisfied with the official account, it is fair enough to have an inquest. But we must take account of the family’s views.’
Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock, a member of the Commons Defence Committee, said: ‘Dr Kelly was treated appallingly by the last Government. His death was written off as suicide too hastily and the circumstances of his death were never fully investigated. If any criminal element was involved we need to know.’
Tory MP Adam Holloway, an Army captain in the Gulf War, said: ‘We need to establish the true cause of Dr Kelly’s death.’
However, there is likely to be opposition from Labour figures involved in the war and its aftermath. They include former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, a close Blair ally. It was he who chose Lord Hutton to investigate Dr Kelly’s death and who put the 70-year embargo on releasing his medical records.
A source close to Lord Falconer said: ‘The idea that a coroner’s inquest could be better than an inquiry led by someone as experienced and as distinguished as Lord Hutton is not plausible.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘The request for the release of Dr Kelly’s medical papers is currently under consideration.’David would never have committed suicide in that spotConspiracy theory: Nikolai Tolstoy believes Dr Kelly was killed
A distinguished historian and neighbour of Dr David Kelly has added to the growing clamour for an inquest by declaring he does not believe Dr Kelly committed suicide.
Count Nikolai Tolstoy said last night that the scientist’s ‘considerate’ character meant he would never have chosen to die in a place where passers-by were likely to be shocked – particularly when he could easily have deployed more discreet and effective means of killing himself.
Tolstoy, who is an expert on Celtic mythology and the Second World War, lives in the Oxfordshire village of Southmoor where the scientist shared an old farmhouse with his wife, Janice Kelly. Dr Kelly died on nearby Harrowdown Hill, on a walking route that is widely used by locals.
‘I remember the night of his death very well,’ Tolstoy said last night. ‘There were helicopters flying overhead for hours after the body was found.
‘The general view in the village is that suicide is extremely unlikely. He used to drink in our local pub and he was a very friendly and considerate man.
‘I frequently walk past the spot where he died, and he would not have done something like that in a place where an old lady could have found him.
‘It just seems wholly implausible that he should have chosen to saw away at his wrist with a blunt knife when there were other means available to him at home, where his wife kept various drugs for her medical conditions.’
Tolstoy, who stood as a UKIP candidate against David Cameron at the last Election, believes that Dr Kelly died because he had annoyed Tony Blair’s Government.
The historian, who is a distant cousin of War And Peace author Leo Tolstoy, had his own battle with the Establishment in the Eighties when he was ordered to pay £1.5 million damages to Lord Aldington, after making claims in a pamphlet accusing the peer of complicity in war crimes.
Tolstoy’s defence against the libel action was seriously hampered when the Ministry of Defence removed vital papers from the Public Record Office which Tolstoy needed to fight his case – while Aldington found his access to war records unimpeded.
‘I was in a similar position when I was attacked by the Establishment and it didn’t make me feel that way [suicidal],’ Tolstoy added.
‘As Sherlock Holmes said, when you have eliminated the impossible, you are left with what happened.
‘Presumably the British Government was behind it all. I don’t believe the theory that Iraqi agents murdered him – how would they have the means and the opportunity to come into the country?
‘I wouldn’t put anything past the Government, as I know from personal experience. When the Establishment is threatened, it closes ranks.’Dr Kelly was a brilliant man who did his best for his country. We owe it to him and ourselves to discover the true cause of his deathIn this powerfully argued article, doctor and barrister Dr Michael Powers QC explains why justice demands an inquest is heldDoubts: Dr Michael Powers QC says key questions were not asked about Dr Kelly
Since his untimely death in July 2003, questions have continued to be raised about the circumstances of Dr David Kelly’s death. Many wonder whether he really killed himself and speculate that he was murdered. His sudden death shocked the nation – how could it have happened?
As a specialist practitioner in law and medicine, I feel a responsibility to the two professions to air my doubts about a case that bridges both worlds.
Any question of suicide or murder has to follow the determination of the cause of death. To do otherwise risks putting the cart before the horse. It would, for example, be scientifically and logically unsound to assume suicide and then to set about finding evidence to prove it.
Before asking whether a deceased himself or a third party put the bullet in the head, it is necessary to determine first that there was a hole in the head and secondly that the deceased died because of it.
For 1,000 years, coroners have been investigating sudden, violent and unnatural deaths. They have got good at it. Suicide used to be a crime and a finding of self-murder is an unhappy reflection on the victim and his family and friends.
That is why suicide has to be proved to the same high standard as murder. It has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased did the act which killed him with that intention in mind.
The normal inquest process in the case of David Kelly was interrupted by the order of the Government. Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor at the time, exercised a rarely used power to require the Oxfordshire coroner to adjourn his investigation and to give that responsibility to Lord Hutton.
The coroner had the power to compel witnesses to attend and to give evidence on oath. The Government which took our country to war with Iraq chose not to give these considerable powers to Lord Hutton.
Although there were 24 days of evidence taken over two-and-a-half months, the whole of the medical evidence took no more than a half day. The evidence of the pathologist, toxicologist and forensic biologist can be read in 30 minutes. No one could say this was a detailed investigation into the death.
I was trained as a doctor and during my years in medical practice I often had to pass fine catheters into the radial artery in the wrist. This is where medics usually feel the pulse. It can even be seen pulsating in many people. Dr Kelly’s wrists were not slit. Neither radial artery was cut. This alone is a strange finding in someone who intends suicide by this method.
Deeper in the wrist on the side of the little finger lies the ulnar artery. It is not used for catheterisation because it is too small. Yet Lord Hutton, on the unchallenged evidence of a single pathologist, concluded that Dr Kelly bled to death from the severance of this single small artery in the left hand.
No courtroom drama would be complete without critical witnesses being challenged through the cross-examination process. Like all barristers, I received a rigorous training in advocacy and, because of its enormous importance, I take time from my practice to train barristers in this art. A skilful cross-examination is often the key to ascertaining the truth.
None of this happened in Lord Hutton’s inquiry and witnesses were simply led through prepared evidence. Reading the transcripts, far from providing any sense of satisfaction, leaves me with feelings of frustration. Opportunity after opportunity was lost to pursue answers until every avenue had been thoroughly explored and every ‘escape route’ closed.
At the very end of his evidence, Dr Nicholas Hunt, the pathologist who had conducted the post-mortem, was asked: ‘Is there anything else you would like to say concerning the circumstances leading to Dr Kelly’s death?’
Such a question gives the witness who is favourably disposed to the questioner an open opportunity to go further than his witness statement. It is NOT a question ever asked in cross-examination as it provides a free pass to an escape route.
Dr Hunt answered: ‘Nothing I could say as a pathologist, no.’ He is an experienced expert witness. What on earth did that answer mean? He was there to give evidence as a pathologist. He knew that. Everyone knew that. So why did he give that answer? It begged the question whether there was anything else he knew. Was he concerned about any other forensic or factual evidence? These questions were never asked.
Hutton focused on the so-called dodgy dossier and the conflict between the Government and the BBC which, at that time, was more in the public eye. Because it was taken for granted that Dr Kelly had killed himself, the medical evidence was insufficiently explored.
In the absence of any bleeding tendency from a clotting deficiency (and there was no evidence of this) fatal haemorrhage from a severed ulnar artery is so improbable that more evidence was essential before such a conclusion could be reached.
If you want to know how much beer has gone from a full pint glass, it is easy. You can either measure how much has been poured out or measure how much remains. To be confident, you would measure both. The same approach should have been adopted in this case.
As it was not, there is no evidence as to whether there was sufficient haemorrhage from the ulnar artery to cause death. The inquiry fell into the trap of the circular argument: Dr Kelly died, therefore he must have lost sufficient blood.
In my work as a barrister I meet many medics, but I have never met a single doctor who has disagreed with the proposition that it is extremely improbable that haemorrhage from a single, severed ulnar artery would ever be a primary cause of death.
Yet this extreme unlikelihood was never explored with Dr Hunt. Whatever the reason, this was a serious failure of the Hutton Inquiry. It has understandably led to a suspicion of cover-up. This could not have been the cause of death, the argument goes. If it were not the cause, then what did cause his death? Was it something Dr Kelly did to himself, intending to cause his own death, which has not yet been discovered? Was it part of some elaborate plan by others to end his life?
The only way to stop the many theories which abound is for there now to be a thorough and open investigation by way of a fresh inquest. Surely the Government realises that the way to foster conspiracy theories is to be secretive and to resist calls to disclose all the medical evidence. We should pay tribute to Dr Kelly. He was a brilliant man who did his best in the service of this country. He deserves our gratitude and respect. We owe it to him and ourselves to ensure the true cause of his death is ascertained.* Dr Michael J. Powers QC is a barrister specialising in medical causation and a Fellow of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians to which he is an appointed examiner. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1303190/Michael-Howard-leads-MPs-Dr-David-Kelly-inquest.html