Reaction: Dr David Kelly reports

  • Published
Dr David Kelly
Image caption,
Some have called for a full inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly - one was never held

Experts, officials and campaigners have been reacting to the newly released evidence about the death of Iraq weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

The post-mortem report into his 2003 death, released as ministers sought to end speculation over his death, backs up Lord Hutton's verdict that he committed suicide.

A group of doctors has been calling for the case to be reopened, arguing that the suicide verdict was unsafe.

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

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke called on others to respect the "privacy" of Dr Kelly's family as the unusual decision was made to release papers on the internet.

In a written ministerial statement he said: "I have today placed copies of the post-mortem examination report and the toxicology report relating to the death of Dr David Kelly in July 2003 in the libraries of both Houses and on the Ministry of Justice website.

"I am publishing these reports in the interests of maintaining public confidence in the inquiry into how Dr Kelly came by his death.

"While I firmly believe that the publication of these documents is in the public interest, I am mindful that the contents may be distressing. I hope that the privacy of Dr Kelly's family will be respected at this difficult time."

Instead of a coroner's inquest after Dr Kelly's death in 2003, 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 details of the post-mortem examination and toxicology tests be classified for 70 years and the previous Labour government chose not to make them public.

"There appears to be widespread misunderstanding about the availability of the post-mortem report on Dr David Kelly.

"I wish to make it clear that when a group of doctors made a request to see the post-mortem report, I issued a statement in January that I would not object to its disclosure to the doctors and their legal advisers for the purposes of legal proceedings.

"However, whether or not the report should be disclosed is a matter for the Lord Chancellor to decide.

"The inquiry which I conducted was open and public. It was very widely reported in the media and all the evidence appeared on the inquiry website which is still available to view."

He said the post-mortem report was available for inspection by lawyers present at the inquiry, who had not challenged Dr Hunt's evidence, nor that of other witnesses.

"At the conclusion of the inquiry I requested (not 'ordered') that the post-mortem report should not be disclosed for 70 years.

"I made this request solely in order to protect Dr Kelly's widow and daughters for the remainder of their lives... from the distress which they would suffer from further discussion of the details of Dr Kelly's death in the media."

An investigative journalist who has written extensively about Dr Kelly's death, Mr Mangold has said that despite the publication of the documents, rumours would persist.

"I hope [the publication of the reports] brings closure. I have my doubts that it will.

"There were three stories for the conspiracy: a bonkers book, written by an MP who should have known better; a bit of a campaign by Associated Newspapers - I have to say I work for them as a freelance every now and then - that was a misjudged campaign; and, of course, the flat-earthers on the internet who I don't think will let the conspiracy die."

Prof Bion - professor of intensive care medicine at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital - was one of nine signatories to a letter in the Times newspaper which renewed calls for a formal inquest into Dr Kelly's death.

He told BBC Radio 5 live the newly published report "certainly satisfied" him that the cause of death given was the correct one.

"I can't speak for other [doctors] in this respect. I find Dr Hunt's contemporaneous report convincing."

He said the doctors concerned had wanted to bring clarity to the issue, adding: "We certainly did not want to add to the burden of suffering for the family."

A former coroner, Dr Powers is also part of the group calling for a full inquest.

He says the disclosure of the two reports was an admission by the government that Lord Hutton's inquiry was "inadequate".

"There's nothing really new in [the reports]. What concerns me most is that there has been an appreciation of a need... to put further information into the public domain.

"That is in itself... emphasises that the nature of the detail of the original inquiry was insufficient."

He added that whether the reports said something new or not, it was "wholly unsatisfactory to have an inquiry that is effectively conducted through the media".

"It's similar I suppose to playing chess by post - it's not the right way to hold an inquiry, there is a need still to address many of the issues which have already been raised and which these reports don't answer."

He also said it remained unclear whether the decision to publish was "clearing a path" for an inquest or attempting to "close it off" in the face of vocal and sustained public pressure.

Dr Powers said inconsistencies in evidence of the amount of blood found at the scene and pooled in Dr Kelly's jacket remained a key grey area.

Uncertainty also remained about the number of pills Dr Kelly had taken, he said.

"If he were only to have taken six to eight tablets, what does that say about his intent to take his own life?" he said. "I don't believe any of the evidence we have seen or heard to date can answer those questions."

Barrister Dr Bloom - a former GP and ex-deputy coroner - is also included in the group campaigning for more answers on Dr Kelly's death. She said they had concerns over both the medical evidence and the legal process.

Dr Bloom told the BBC that death from haemorrhage from the ulnar artery [in the wrist] was "extremely uncommon and unlikely, particularly if the artery is completely severed" because it tends to close itself off if severed completely.

"There was an inadequate description [in the published documents] of the amount of blood which one would expect if a patient had exsanguinated (bled to death) and that had been the primary cause of death," she said.

She added: "In deaths like this, which are unusual and uncertain, the right procedure in law in this country is to hold an inquest.

"That process was aborted by the government... and the Hutton Inquiry ensued. We as a group felt the outcome from the Hutton Inquiry was insufficient in terms of its exploration of the death."

She said the new documents did not answer her questions.

"If anything they raise a question," said Dr Bloom. "The pathologist told the [Daily Mail] newspaper that he had found a large amount of blood... in the jacket sleeve of the coat Dr Kelly was wearing."

"In fact there's no description of a large amount of blood within the jacket in the post-mortem description of the body and the clothing.

"So again we are left not knowing why it is that someone could have died of this very unusual cause without sufficient amount of blood having been described either by the pathologist or the paramedics who were at the scene.

"My concerns would be allayed if due process - which I think Dr Kelly is entitled to - is carried out.

"Tragically we are now so far from the time of his death that one wonders whether the inquest will achieve any more.

"If the information which comes out remains as it is, it would be open to the coroner, if not satisfied, to bring in an open verdict. That may not be entirely satisfactory but it may be the best that we can get."

Solicitor Peter Jacobsen, who has represented the family of Dr Kelly since 2003, said they had no comment to make on the decision to publish the reports.

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