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20 July 2003 21:11

The lonely end of a 'loving, private, dignified man'

As friends and family grieve, the beautiful, peaceful Oxfordshire village where Dr Kelly lived - and died - is seized with growing unease. Simon O'Hagan, Andrew Johnson and Cole Moreton report

20 July 2003

David Kelly's life was made "intolerable" in recent weeks, said his family yesterday. "All of those involved should reflect long and hard on that fact," said a statement read out by an officer at Wantage police station, a few miles from where his body was found on Friday morning.

"We are devastated and heartbroken at the death of our husband, father and brother," it said. "We will miss his warm humour and humanity. Those who knew him will remember him for his devotion to his home, family and the countryside in which he lived. A loving, private, dignified man has been taken from us all."

Meanwhile neighbours at the village in Oxfordshire where Dr Kelly lived said his apparent suicide was "out of character" and claimed their friend had been "hung out to dry" in the row over weapons of mass destruction.

Elsewhere, Dr Kelly's brother-in-law Derek Vawdrey said the family was "astonishingly sad" and felt someone somewhere would have to pay for what had happened. The weapons expert had been traumatised by his appearance before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said Mr Vawdrey, who felt Dr Kelly had been made a fall guy and was not trained to handle such tough questioning.

As details of the death emerged yesterday it seemed Dr Kelly's end had been as carefully thought out as his life's work. The scientist with a reputation for getting the details right left home on Thursday afternoon as though nothing was wrong, which meant nobody in the family was alarmed and lessened the risk of his being disturbed. He walked to a beautiful but quiet spot far enough from his house to be private and close enough for his body to be found relatively quickly.

The 59-year-old was found face down in dense woodland at Harrowdon Hill with a knife by his side, having died from haemorrhaging to the left wrist, police said yesterday. A cut to the vein would have caused him to lose blood fast and black out within minutes. It would also have hurt, but the meticulous Dr Kelly had taken a packet of strong painkillers with him, apparently to deaden the nerve endings. So far, so scientific. But nobody could quite believe it yesterday at the village pub where they knew David Kelly as Dai.

"It's devastating. I just can't see David doing that,'' said Steve Ward, the landlord of the Hinds Head in Southmoor, having been told how his fellow villager died. "He was far too straight and sensible and level-headed," said Mr Ward. "It just seems so out of character. The whole thing is going to be terrible for his family.''

Southmoor and its adjoining village of Kingston Bagpuize, a few miles west of Wantage, is a quiet community with a sizeable professional population which takes an educated interest in the world.

''I suppose he seemed a bit like me,'' said a 65-year-old retired schoolmaster, having a lunchtime drink with his wife. "Just someone who wanted to be able to get on with his job to the best of his ability. I feel he's been hounded to his death.

"He had no interest in politics, he was excellent at his job, and it seems to me that he got caught up in a situation he couldn't handle. When something like this happens I feel more and more that I don't know what's going on. We're simply not told.''

Julie Owen agreed: "I think he was hung out to dry. I've lived here for 30 years. I can't believe something like this has happened here. We're where people come to in order to get away from things like this.'' One of her children had been at school with his daughters.

Earlier, Dr Kelly's wife Janice and one of his three daughters had been driven away from their house in a police vehicle with darkened windows, and taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to formally identify the body.

Now, as a police helicopter circled over Southmoor, visitors gathered at Kingston Bagpuize House, the local stately home and gardens. One man said that "if this had been a Tory government, they would have been hounded out by now. It's impossible to know what the truth is about Dr Kelly, the war, and weapons of mass destruction, and I doubt we shall ever be told. And that makes me very uneasy. I can't understand why he was made a scapegoat.''

Four years ago, when Dr Kelly was working for the UN in New York, he became a follower of the Bahai faith. "He was modest, self effacing, intelligent and honourable in every way," said Susie Howard, a member of the Abingdon Bahai group to which Dr Kelly belonged. "We are devastated... People are very surprised. He was a private man. When one thinks of what he endured - he led the first weapons inspection team to Iraq - he was very emotionally together, I think."

The statement from the family read out by police yesterday said: "David's professional life was characterised by his integrity, honour and dedication to finding the truth often in the most difficult circumstances. His life will always be a source of great pride." After thanking the police and public for their support the family concluded: "It is hard to comprehend the enormity of this tragedy. We ask everyone to leave us alone to grieve and come to terms with our loss."

A final email: 'Hopefully it will soon pass ... and I can get on with the real job'

By Severin Carrell

The death of David Kelly has left friends and close colleagues confused, distressed and increasingly angry about his treatment.

Although mild and open-natured, Dr Kelly was used to stress and pressure in his long career as an expert on biological warfare. He had debriefed a Soviet defector, investigated secret Siberian weapons centres and Iraqi desert laboratories, and repeatedly confronted tense, irate Russian and Iraqi officials intent on blocking his investigations.

But many of his colleagues believe that despite this experience the strain of the past three weeks - particularly from his exposure in Government leaks as the alleged "mole" who briefed the BBC about Downing Street's weapons dossier - finally broke him down.

"He just looked like somebody just so worn down and not the sparky authoritative Kelly that I was used to when sharing platforms with him, with his nice, funny asides and so on. He was almost inaudible. I thought this was uncharacteristic," said his friend Professor Alistair Hay, a chemical weapons expert and professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University.

"I just thought this is such an intolerable position to be in - carrying this weight, and the Government saying you're the reason we're in this difficulty."

Dr Kelly seemed to be performing normal routines in the days before his death: writing emails, briefing overseas officials and, he said, eagerly looking forward to his next visit to Iraq.

He dashed off an email to a Norwegian civil servant asking for help on Iraq's weapons programme, and sent a short, apparently optimistic note on Thursday morning to Professor Hay. Worried by his friend's subdued and stressed appearance before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee earlier in the week, Professor Hay had spent 40 fruitless minutes trying to reach Dr Kelly by phone at the Ministry of Defence. After being passed from office to office, he sent an email instead. Dr Kelly's reply was reassuring. "Many thanks for your support," he wrote back. "Hopefully it will soon pass and I can get to Baghdad and get on with the real job."

Several hours later, however, the scientist walked away from his home in Southmoor and apparently committed suicide.

Professor Hay, whose wife, Wendy, commited suicide after years of mental illness, now believes Dr Kelly's "business as usual" emails reflected only part of the complex, powerful emotions he was enduring.

A man of immense integrity, Dr Kelly would have taken the recent allegations about his role in the BBC row very seriously, Professor Hay said. If asked for advice, "his opinion would be truthful, it would thoughtful, it would be straight down the line. There would be no spin, no agenda.

"The integrity was so obvious when he talked about his experiences in Iraq. He would be absolutely persistent and pretty hard in going after things, and pretty determined to get to the truth."

Dr Malcolm Dando, the head of a chemical and biological weapons research programme at Bradford University, was shocked byDr Kelly's death. "It's horrible. It's absolutely horrible," he said. "I thought not only was he very intelligent, well informed and careful, I also thought he was a nice man.

"He was very highly rated by that small group of people who met in various, diverse places to talk about biological weapons - people who were both insiders and outsiders."

Yet Professor Julian Perry Robinson, a leading authority on chemical weapons at Sussex University, suspects Dr Kelly was distressed by other, undisclosed recent experiences - certainly not by the hectoring he received in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee hearing. "He was exchanging emails right up to the end."

But Professor Robinson, who first met Dr Kelly in the mid-1980s, when they lectured together at the former Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, Wiltshire, still feels confused about the cause of his friend's death. "It's a complete muddle and everything conflicts with everything else. The only certain thing is that a good man is dead."

©Copyright 2003, The Independent News (UK)

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