Revealed: Kelly told church of dossier fears
Scientist briefed Hoon days before attack on Iraq
Jason Burke and Kamal Ahmed
David Kelly spoke openly to fellow members of a religious sect about his concerns over the 'interpretation' of intelligence material in the Government's September dossier on whether Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
As the dead scientists' family yesterday met the senior law lord appointed to head the judicial inquiry into the affair, remarkable new details emerged of Kelly's views on the dossier during a discussion with worshippers of the Bahai faith, a Persian religion that promotes global peace, inter-racial harmony and self-discipline.
The disclosure of new evidence about his 'unhappiness' with the dossier came as it was revealed last night that Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, had a private lunch with the weapons scientist shortly before the Iraq conflict, undermining government claims that Kelly was a middle-ranking official with little access to intelligence.
Hoon met Kelly to discuss Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction. Although it is not clear whether Kelly raised his concerns about the use of intelligence to make the case for war, it is unusual for a member of the Cabinet to meet officials unless they have high levels of information unlikely to be known by the Minister.
Kelly, who joined the 5000-strong British followers of the Bahai faith in 1999, made his comments at the home of Geeta and Roger Kingdon, two fellow worshippers, in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, on 5 October last year. Also present were around 30 other invited Bahai guests.
Kelly gave a 40-minute talk, which was accompanied with a slide show, about his work as a weapons inspector in Iraq. He ended with a question-and-answer session on the intelligence dossier, which had been made public 10 days earlier as part of what opponents claim was a government attempt to swing public opinion behind war on Iraq.
Roger Kingdon told The Observer last night that Kelly expressed his unhappiness with how the document was being interpreted, saying the intelligence information supplied was accurate, but indicating that he was uncomfortable about how it was being represented.
At the time of the discussion, newspapers and broadcasters were reporting, with government guidance, that the document proved that the Iraqi military could deploy chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice; that there had been recent attempts by the Iraqis to acquire 'significant quantities of uranium from Africa'; and that Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon in 'between one and two years' if Saddam's Hussein's agents obtained bomb-grade uranium and other components.
The Sun reacted with the headline: 'He's got 'em... Let's get him.'
Critically, however, Kingdon said it was unclear whether Kelly was saying that he was unhappy at the way the document had been presented by the government, or at the way it had been interpreted by the media, or both.
'I asked him what he thought of [the dossier]. It was clear that he was happy with the factual content but less happy... and felt frustrated... by the way it had been interpreted... But he did not say who by.'
Kingdon said Kelly was 'ambiguous' about exactly who he blamed for the misrepresentation of the dossier. '[He] expressed frustration at how it was interpreted but did not say by whom,' he said.
The news that he talked so openly will be seized on by those who have been trying to paint the scientist as a maverick with an inappropriate taste for talking about his work.
However, Kelly's friends attribute it to his personal determination to ensure that the problems of weapons proliferation was properly understood by the public and the media.
The disclosures last night added fresh intrigue to the crisis that has engulfed the government and the BBC since the Ministry of Defence scientist's body was found two miles from his home in Southmoor, Oxfordshire, on 18 July. Kelly, 59, bled to death after slashing his left wrist.
Lord Hutton, who was appointed by Tony Blair to carry out a judicial inquiry into the events surrounding Kelly's death, yesterday visited his widow, Janice, and her three daughters before starting to hear evidence in a case that is likely to last six weeks. Friends of the family indicated last night that they were unlikely to make any public comment until the inquiry was completed.
Kelly, who was employed by the Ministry, though he had frequent contact with the security services, appears to have often briefed journalists on the hunt for WMD programmes in Iraq and elsewhere. It was one such discussion, with Andrew Gilligan of the BBC in a hotel in London earlier this year, which eventually led to the disclosure of his name to the media and his suicide.
The Observer has also learned that Kelly was vetted by the Ministry of Defence and MI5 in the months before his death. As a senior official at the top secret chemical and biological weapons research centre at Porton Down, Kelly was subject to so-called 'developed vetting'.
This enhanced level of checks tests for which involve comprehensive interviews with colleagues, superiors and other associates, is usually only reviewed every three years. A more cursory check, of police and financial records, is carried out every year. It is unclear which vet ting procedure was carried out on Kelly earlier this year.
There have been reports - denied by his family - that Kelly had been suffering from depression for some time. Ministry of Defence officials said last night that vetting, conducted by a special section in York, is largely focused on security issues and that a medical problem, unless entered on medical records, might not be detected. However, one former colleague of Kelly told The Observer that the scientist would have been subject to a high degree of scrutiny. 'This is someone with access to the highest levels of intelligence and who, through his work at Porton Down, worked closely with extremely dangerous substances,' he said. 'They would have been, or should have been, watching him closely.'
Kingdon said that Kelly was a strong admirer of Hans Blix, the Swedish head of the United Nations weapons inspection programme who was criticised by American hawks for being too moderate. Blix is known to be committed to the idea that inspections offer a better alternative to international disputes over weapons of mass destruction than war.
Bahai officials said they are discussing funeral plans with Dr Kelly's family. 'Bahais locally are in touch with the family and are offering whatever support they can to Mrs Kelly,' one said.
'We're working very closely with the family to have a funeral in accordance with the family's needs and Dr Kelly's life,' he said.
Meanwhile, Sky News and ITN are making legal representations to Lord Hutton in a bid to have television cameras admitted to the inquiry hearings, a Sky spokeswoman said yesterday.
The secretary to the inquiry, Lee Hughes, announced last Thursday that the judge had decided TV and radio broadcasts would be limited to the opening and closing statements.
©Copyright 2003, The Guardian (UK)
Following is the URL to the original story. The site may have removed or archived this story. URL: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,1006711,00.html