COMMENT AND FEATURES
The man who knew too much
By Raymond Whitaker, Severin Carrell and Steve Bloomfield
There were few clues in the career of David Kelly, one of the most respected scientists in his field, that he would choose a lonely death in the Oxford-shire countryside.
The 59-year-old microbiologist had endured years of confrontation and harassment as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He had carried out 37 inspections in Iraq between 1991 and 1998 when the inspectors pulled out on the grounds that Saddam Hussein's regime had made it impossible for them to continue.
Dr Kelly had also investigated illicit smallpox laboratories in Russia, facing down Russian officials who were as difficult and as devious as their Iraqi counterparts.
According to Prof Julian Perry Robinson, Britain's most senior and respected expert on chemical weapons and a friend and colleague of Kelly, these experiences hardened him. It seems unlikely that a man with his background would have been driven to suicide by one or two bumptious members of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, unpleasant though he clearly found his public grilling by the MPs.
Friends and fellow scientists have speculated that he came under heavy pressure in White-hall once he had admitted giving an unauthorised interview to Andrew Gilligan, the BBC journalist. But he was an experienced bureaucrat who had been spied on and bullied by far more menacing people than the mandarins of the Ministry of Defence.
One important piece of evidence that has been overlook-ed, however, is that Kelly, once known as one of the more hawkish UN inspectors in Iraq, appeared to have changed his views in the past couple of years. "Because of the way they were treated by the Iraqis, most UN weapons inspectors were convinced that Saddam Hussein had something to hide," said one analyst, who asked not to be named. "But Kelly was more outspoken than the majority of them.
"Not only did he speak quite frequently about the difficulties the inspectors faced, he emphasised that the Iraqis had vast quantities of chemical and biological material before the 1991 Gulf War. He was also one of the few inspectors willing to comment on the suffering the regime had inflicted on the Iraqis themselves."
Despite his conventional up-bringing - he was born in the Rhondda Valley, the son of an RAF officer and a school teacher, and he grew up in Tunbridge Wells - Kelly had become a follower of the Baha'i faith, which originated in Persia. Fellow inspectors said he went out of his way to get to know the Iraqis.
A teetotaller with a reputation as a principled opponent of the Iraqi regime, he was senior adviser on biological weapons to Unscom, the UN weapons inspectorate, until 1999. That year he took on a similar role as a consultant to the MoD and the Foreign Office.
What the Government might not have known was that a month earlier, at a seminar at University College, London, the scientist had signalled a change of heart.
Throughout the 1990s, he said, UN inspection teams had found no definite evidence of any ongoing chemical or bio-logical programmes in Iraq.
"Having agreed to take part in what he believed would be an objective assessment of the state of Iraq's WMD, it is pos-sible that he became disillusioned as the process went on," said the analyst.
"Initially the Government was talking about releasing a dossier very quickly, but it was six months before it was finally issued in September 2002, with highly contentious allegations we all know about, especially the claim that Saddam could launch weapons within 45 minutes of the order being given.
"For a man who knew this was nonsense, it must have been a severe strain. For professional reasons he had to put out statements in which he didn't have any faith."
Even if he was not Gilligan's source for the claim that the Prime Minister's communications director, Alastair Camp-bell, inserted the 45 minutes claim to "sex up" the dossier, Kelly's doubts were communicated to Gilligan and other journalists. He told them and the Foreign Affairs Committee that there was only a 30% chance that Iraq still had biological weapons at the beginning of the war.
But on July 3, as the row between Campbell and the BBC over the allegation hotted up, a troubled Kelly came forward to his line manager. According to the government, he had been worried by press reports of the saga because he had met Gilligan at the Charing Cross Hotel in London on May 22, a week before the journalist made his allegation. Although Kelly was convinced that he was not the source, he was anxious because some of the points covered in their discussion featured in Gilligan's reports.
MoD officials questioned Kelly, in line with the department's normal practice on personnel matters.
Downing Street is adamant that it was not involved. "We played it by the book," insisted one Whitehall source.
However, senior Whitehall sources sympathetic to the scientist have another version. According to them, Dr Kelly was interrogated for four days before the MoD issued its statement. The questioning was described as "brutal", and during it, the sources say, he was threatened with being charged under the Official Secrets Act.
The government insists Kelly was treated properly and that no threats were made.
But his death will clearly lead to a re-examination of his treatment at the hands of civil servants and politicians.
©Copyright 2003, The Daily News (Africa)
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