2000-2009 | Iraq



[ 18 July 2003 ]

Today in 2003, Dr. David Kelly, a 59 year old chemical weapons expert and former UN weapons inspector, was found dead in the woods, just one mile from his Oxfordshire home. Two days earlier, he had been aggressively questioned by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about a ‘sexed-up dossier,’ which had given Tony Blair’s government the pretext it needed to attack Iraq.  During the questioning, he admitted that he had talked off the record to Andrew Gilligan, the BBC correspondent who broke the news.

An official inquiry was immediately ordered by Blair, with Lord Hutton appointed as its chairman. This meant that, under Section 17A of the 1988 Coroner’s Act, there could not be a full Coroner’s inquiry. As a consequence, witnesses were not compelled to attend and there was no jury and, unlike with a Coroner’s inquiry, Lord Hutton did not have to be satisfied ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the former weapons inspector had killed himself.

One key fact not even discussed at the inquiry, although it was known at the time, was that although Dr. Kelly had no gloves with him when his body was found, the police could find no finger prints on the knife he had allegedly used to slash his own wrists. Nor were there any finger prints at all on any of the items found on his body, including a mobile phone, a watch, a pair of glasses and the empty packets of medication.

Many key witnesses were never even invited to attend the inquiry, including a close friend, Mai Pederson, who later claimed that his right arm was so feeble, more than a decade after an accident, that he couldn’t even cut a steak and that he had an aversion to swallowing pills. Nevertheless Hutton  concluded that Dr. Kelly had committed suicide by swallowing a large number of pills and then slashing his wrists.  He also denounced Andrew Gilligan and the BBC, praised Tony Blair and declared there was nothing unethical about the way Kelly’s name had been made public.

Labour politician Tony Benn commented in his diary that ‘the more I reflected on it, the more I realised it was 100 per cent whitewash.’1 Fourteen years later, in July 2017, David Kelly’s body was exhumed from the churchyard in St. Mary’s in Longworth and reportedly cremated. However, a researcher requesting to see the exhumation application was informed that its release ‘would not be in the public interest.’2


  1. Ruth Winstone (editor), Tony Benn, More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001-2007, Arrow Books, London, 2008, p. 165.
  2. Miles Goslett, ‘Inconvenient Death,’  The Sun, 1 April 2018 accessed online at https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/uknews/5951147/dr-david-kelly-death-theories/

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