Tom Mangold speaks out
By Tom Mangold
Last updated at 1:17 AM on 12th June 2011
Once again, the conspiracy theorists are crying foul over the refusal of the Government to hold an inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly.
They believe the weapons inspector – the source for claims that the notorious intelligence dossier on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction had been ‘sexed up’ – was murdered by the British Government. And that there has been a systematic cover-up.
The conspiracy theorists are – as usual – wildly off target about Dr Kelly’s tragic suicide.
However, Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s decision last week compounds the error made in 2003 to allow Lord Hutton’s inquiry to take the place of an inquest and plays into the hands of those who seek to peddle sensational untruths.
Inquests have a long, noble tradition of uncovering inconvenient truths. Unlike official inquiries, whose terms of reference are often massaged by politicians, inquests are impartial and can be embarrassing for governments and uncomfort¬able for bereaved families.
I know from personal experience that the failure to hold an inquest into Dr Kelly’s death meant that crucial information on his state of mind, deliberately withheld from the Hutton Inquiry on a point of principle, never reached the public domain.
David Kelly was a friend of mine. We also had a close friend in common. Both our mutual friend and I gave statements to the coroner’s officer about David’s last days. My friend was given the choice of whether his evidence should be referred to Lord Hutton.
Given the fevered state of political debate at the time – remember that BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan had been accused of lying on air about the ‘sexed-up’ dossier – my friend decided that an inquest was the proper forum for his evidence to be heard.
He was uneasy that the Hutton Inquiry did not take evidence on oath and feared it might become a political circus.
Both our testimonies languished, unread, in a dusty coroner’s file. Unwittingly, we had both played into the hands of the conspiracy theorists.
My friend later gave anodyne, uncontroversial evidence to Lord Hutton. We had a long conversation last week and although he insists he must not be named, I can now reveal what was going through Dr Kelly’s mind in the days before he took his own life.
Our mutual friend’s testimony, based on intimate conversations with Dr Kelly 48 hours before his death on July 17, 2003, clearly reveals that he did not feel he was being hounded to death by the Government.
But his mind was in turmoil about two things: his professional reputation and his marriage. Both, he felt, were in tatters.
The key to Dr Kelly’s suicide has always been what happened on July 15 at the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, where Dr Kelly was asked whether he had briefed BBC Newsnight’s Susan Watts about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Liberal Democrat MP David Chidgey read Dr Kelly a long quotation from a piece broadcast by Watts on Newsnight the previous month.
Dr Kelly replied he did not recognise the words. On further questioning, he denied being the author of the quote. Subsequently he also denied giving an interview to the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt. Both statements were untrue.
Worse still, Watts’s interview with Dr Kelly had been recorded. A few hours later, Dr Kelly told our mutual friend: ‘I expected a slap on the wrist about saying too much to Andrew Gilligan, but I was completely blind-sided by that session with Chidgey.’
Dr Kelly said he did not feel he had deliberately lied to the committee, but he admitted he ‘sort of recognised’ the words read to him by the MP but simply did not recall the interview.
‘What I said in committee was a sort of holding operation,’ he said, ‘but I blame myself for getting it wrong.’
There was no mention during this long and important conversation of Dr Kelly blaming the Government or his immediate bosses for putting more pressure on him than he could withstand.
Indeed, it has always seemed absurd to me that Dr Kelly would have cracked under pressure. This was the man who reduced the vile Iraqi government minister Dr Rihab ‘Toxic’ Taha to impotent hysteria.
This was the man who saw through the deepest KGB deceptions about its manufacture of deadly anthrax and bubonic plague spores. And this was the man I once interviewed for seven hours non-stop for a book, and who declined my wife’s offer of respite and cups of tea. ‘I’m enjoying this,’ he told her.
Dr Kelly asked for our friend’s advice on his marriage and about his friendship with Mai Pedersen, a US Air Force Sergeant and interpreter who worked with the UN weapons inspection team in Baghdad and is generally believed to have been a Pentagon informant.
It is a matter of fact that David’s professional involvement with Pedersen had become a personal friendship.
It is also true his marriage seemed to have reached a tipping point and that his imminent early retirement at 60 – he was 59 – presented a host of new problems, such as whether he should accept a job with a think-tank close to Pedersen in California, a move that would have signalled the end of the marriage.
The main pressure on Dr Kelly was not from the Government, but from his immediate bosses at the MoD who demanded he reveal every contact he had had with journalists.
David tried to keep the list to a minimum and might have got away with the Susan Watts untruth. But he didn’t know the interview had been recorded – or that the BBC would reveal this.
On the morning of his death, David was in good spirits because he believed he had weathered the worst of the storm and was soon due to return to Baghdad and Pedersen.
His emails to friends were upbeat. But I believe that he was later warned by a colleague that the truth about his interview with Watts had leaked – and he would be revealed as having lied to the committee.
In a moment, he faced the prospect of personal and professional ruin. And he took what he believed to be the only honourable way out.
I always held David in the very highest regard both as a friend and as a servant of this nation. I know the truth of his suicide would have done terrible damage to David’s fully deserved reputation for honesty and integrity.
But I am also convinced that had the Government hounded him to his lonely death, he would have left a suicide note or a letter to his friends, placing the blame where he thought it belonged.
In not leaving a note, I am certain he left another very clear message – he was ending it all through a mixture of shame and the imminent foreclosure of whatever future life he had been planning for himself.
That this tragic story has been turned into a distasteful carnival of conspiracy theories is due in no small part to the failure to hold an impartial inquest with the correct evidential procedures.
I also believe that this failure was compounded by an error of judgment on the part of Lord Hutton in attending David’s funeral and allowing Janice, his widow, to give evidence by video.
It might be that he wished to protect her even further from the stresses of an open inquest. We may never know: Lord Hutton ordered that the evidence be sealed for 70 years.
And even when the files are opened they may not contain the whole truth. Without the evidence, given on oath, of one of David’s closest friends, the picture cannot be fully complete. The memory of David will by hijacked by conspiracy theorists for ever. And that is the final sadness.