Lonely death of man who found Saddam’s anthrax
A softly spoken exterior masked a steely, dedicated scientist who plagued Iraq
EXACTLY what made Dr David Kelly’s life suddenly unbearable will be the focus of political recriminations for years to come.
The pioneering weapons inspector who uncovered Saddam Hussein’s secret anthrax programme was incensed at his treatment by a committee of MPs and frustrated that his own evidence to them had been flawed.
Dr Kelly apparently found it impossible to live with his inner torment.
At 3pm on Thursday he left his house, saying he was going for a walk. Paul Weaver, a farmer, spotted the scientist on a footpath more than a mile from his home. The only oddity was why the keen rambler was alone, instead of walking with his wife and daughters as usual.
Dr Kelly headed through wheatfields to a wood on Harrowdown Hill near Faringdon, about five miles from his home. His family alerted police that he was missing at 11.45pm and, after an all-night search using a helicopter, a body was found at 9.30am.
Dr Kelly seems to have been frustrated that his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee may have inadvertently played down his role as a source for Andrew Gilligan’s BBC allegations.
“His wonderful semantic precision let him down during that meeting,” Tom Mangold, the former Panorama reporter and a friend of Dr Kelly, told The Times. “He said he didn’t think he was Andrew Gilligan’s one source. He should have said he didn’t recognise part of Andrew Gilligan’s submission.”
Dr Kelly, 59, a married father of three, had vainly hoped that his appearance before the committee would be cathartic. “For a man like David Kelly, who had worked with intelligence services around the world, to sit there and be told he was a prat and a fall guy was dreadful,” Mr Mangold said.
“He was an honourable, dedicated man. He volunteered this information to his employers at the MoD in the knowledge that he would probably go before a committee. He did not realise the committee would treat him with such contempt.”
Mr Mangold spoke to Dr Kelly’s wife, Janice, shortly after the body was discovered by the police at a beauty spot about a mile from their Oxfordshire home yesterday morning. “She said he was very upset by what had occurred on the committee and very angry,” Mr Mangold said. “Importantly, she did not use the word ‘depressed’. He was the bane of Saddam Hussein, who personally wanted him expelled from the country because he knew where ‘the bodies were buried’.”
Born in the Rhondda Valley, Dr Kelly’s first love was science. He studied for a BSc in bacteriology at Leeds University, took his doctorate at Oxford, then joined the Oxford Institute of Microbiology as a biological pesticide expert.
At the age of 40 he was offered a post dealing with biological warfare at Porton Down, Britain’s chemical and biological laboratory in Wiltshire. It is impossible to exaggerate Dr Kelly’s importance throughout the long campaign to disarm Saddam of his bio-weapons arsenal.
In 1988, while Dr Kelly was working at Porton Down, Iraq tried unsuccessfully to obtain a weapons-grade strain of anthrax from the laboratory. At about the same time, Saddam did manage to get some anthrax from the United States.
Dr Kelly led the first team of United Nations biological weapons inspectors to Iraq in 1991, discovering a factory that could have produced enough anthrax to fill several Scud missiles.
Highly trusted by the Ministry of Defence, he used to help with interviews of defectors, and sat in on debriefings that took place when people returned from overseas postings. He always had access to secret intelligence material.
Beneath a softly spoken façade was a steely individual who wanted only to spend his final year before retirement hunting weapons in Iraq.
Dr Kelly’s role in Iraq and at the UN in New York brought him into frequent contact with journalists, who relied on him to explain the minutiae and complexity of biowarfare. It was against this background that he agreed to meet Mr Gilligan, the BBC defence correspondent, freshly back from the Iraq war, at the Charing Cross Hotel in London on May 22.
Dr Kelly, who was by then serving as adviser to the MoD’s director of counter-proliferation and arms control, hoped to do some debriefing of his own. But he omitted to get authorisation for the encounter.
He later told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee that he did not believe he was the “main source” of Mr Gilligan’s Today programme report on BBC Radio 4 that the Government had “sexed-up” a dossier on Iraq’s weapons.
But he did admit that the name of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister’s director of communications and strategy, came up during the conversation.
Asked whether he had said anything that Mr Gilligan might have interpreted as identifying Mr Campbell “sexing-up” the dossier, Dr Kelly dodged the question. “I find it very difficult to think back to a conversation I had six weeks ago,” he said.
And the man whose semantic precision was a source of wonder to his admirers concluded: “It does not sound like the sort of thing I would say.”
Dr Kelly, the father of Rachel and Ellen, twins aged 30, and Sian, 33, was a homely sort. He was a horserider and he was often seen cutting the grass and tending the large garden of his 18th-century farmhouse in the village of Southmoor, near Abingdon. He was a member of the cribbage team at his local pub, the Hind’s Head. He would drive the minibus to rival pubs because he drank only mineral water since giving up beer some years ago.
Dr Kelly’s family formed a local history society and produced publications on local villages.
His spiritual solace was the Baha’i faith, a monotheistic religion that believes that Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad were all God’s messengers. At one time, he served as treasurer of the Spiritual Assembly in Abingdon.
The Baha’i faith seeks the unification of humanity in one global society. They believe that barriers of race, class, creed and nationality are being broken down, leading ultimately to a universal civilisation.
One of the purposes of the Baha’i faith is to help make this possible. The worldwide community of some five million Baha’is is representative of most of the nations, peoples and cultures on Earth.
“David was held in deep respect by everyone who knew him. He was a man of enormous integrity,” Manoocher Sammi, a friend and fellow executive of the Baha’i faith, said.
Detectives took a computer and files from Dr Kelly’s home yesterday.
A police source ruled out hanging, an overdose, a gunshot wound or natural causes in his death.
©Copyright 2003, Times (UK)