Dr David Kelly was one of Britain's leading experts on weapons of mass destruction
and the inspection of Saddam Hussein
to find them. He was a microbiologist
, whose expertise led to his becoming head of microbiology
at the Ministry of Defence
's chemical research centre at Porton Down
. In this capacity he was been a consultant to the MoD on scientific issues relating to biological warfare
, and after the invasion of Kuwait and the defeat of Iraq
he served as a weapons inspector
and an adviser to the UN
. His apparent suicide
a few days after a select committee
grilling has shocked the political world and this tragedy
might cause serious upheavals in the government.
With the unravelling of the British and American case for war against Iraq in 2003, a serious and continuing rift developed between the BBC and the British government, after journalist Andrew Gilligan alleged that the government had made their official assessment report "more sexy", in particular the now discredited claim that Iraq could mobilise WMD within 45 minutes. Downing Street's chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, was blamed for wanting "sexed up" claims to make the war more palatable to reluctant MPs. The management of the BBC have firmly supported Gilligan and refused to answer the government's enquiries.
In the search for the MoD mole for these accusations, Dr Kelly was named on 9 July as having had an "unauthorised" meeting with Gilligan. The naming was ostensibly private, in a letter from Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to the BBC demanding they should confirm or deny whether Kelly was the source of the leak; but this letter quickly became public, and Downing Street confirmed who they suspected.
Dr Kelly fitted the profile, and could well have been the person. But earlier this week he testified to the House of Commons's select Foreign Affairs Committee that, though he had had three meetings with Gilligan in the last few months, and had now been reprimanded by his superiors for them, he did not recognise himself as the source of the stronger claims. MPs seemed on the whole to believe him. However, after his death the BBC have confirmed they regarded him as the source of their claims.
David Kelly was softly spoken and hesitant before the committee, and comported himself as someone naturally unused to the enormous pressure of public scrutiny, as both a scientist and a normally invisible civil servant. He found he could not even return to his Oxfordshire home easily.
On Thursday 17 July, at about 3 p.m., Dr Kelly went out for a walk. His family reported him missing late that night. On Friday morning the police announced they had found a body in nearby woods fitting his description, and on Saturday it was confirmed that it was him and he had died from slashing his wrist.
David Kelly was born on 17 May 1944 in Llywnypia, in the Rhondda Valley in Glamorganshire; he married Janice Vawdrey in 1967, and they have daughters Sian, 32, and Rachel and Ellen, 30. He got his B.Sc. in bacteriology at Leeds, M.Sc. in virology at Birmingham, and D.Phil. at Oxford studying iridoviruses, his thesis being entitled "The Replication of Some Iridescent Viruses in Cell Cultures".
Dr Kelly was also the chief science officer at the Natural Environment Research Council Institute of Virology. He was head of microbiology at Porton Down between 1984 and 1992. He became a weapons inspector in Iraq in 1991, as part of UNSCOM, and senior adviser to the UN on the biological warfare aspect in 1994. He also led the Russian biological inspection team, under a 1992 Trilateral Agreement.
The Prime Minister, informed of the discovery while en route from Washington to Japan, has announced an independent judicial inquiry will be held, headed by Lord Hutton. The political implications are likely to be large: both Geoff Hoon and Alastair Campbell are in the firing line. Even before Kelly's death, he had been widely perceived as "fall guy" for a manipulative government trying to cover their tracks about the lies and exaggerations with which Britain was drawn into the Iraq adventure. But the BBC are now also on the defensive, having admitted Kelly was their source. While both sides are appalled at what has happened, there is now jockeying at being slightly less to blame than thou. Andrew Gilligan has said he rather thinks he was justified in drawing the conclusions he did from Kelly's testimony.
BBC and Guardian websites, passim
obituary, The Independent, 31 July 2003
Frankly, trying to pursue all the twists and turns of this situation is now impossible. There is going to be an independent inquiry, but government departments and the BBC have all continued to snipe at each other about exactly who was at fault and who knew what and how much Kelly explicitly said. Heads will roll but the game won't change. I'm going to stop trying to update this writeup as each twist comes in, unless there's something really big that needs saying.
For subsequent developments see the nodes on The Hutton Inquiry and (for the general case on the Government misleading or being misled about WMD) The Butler Report.