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Intrigue, unanswered questions and, the death of an MoD weapons expert

Special report: On the day the inquiry opens, Michael Smith and Neil Tweedie examine the issues behind the David Kelly affair

Three days after the death of Dr David Kelly something curious was going on in the offices of the Ministry of Defence.

On the evening of Sunday July 20, MoD police were alerted to an incident in the ministry's Metropole Buildings, off Whitehall.

The official line is that a "burn bag", used for the disposal of classified and sensitive information, had been discovered unattended outside an office. The MoD police did not consider it a matter for them, and it ended there.

However, unofficial sources have told The Telegraph that something more was going on - that the MoD police had been called by a security guard after a "senior official" was discovered hurriedly shredding material.

The incident is symptomatic of the intrigue that surrounds the death of Dr Kelly, the MoD's most senior expert on Iraqi biological weapons.

The Hutton inquiry, which opens today, will have to ask the main participants a number of probing questions if it is to unravel the truth behind Dr Kelly's death and its link to the allegations that the Government "sexed up" its September dossier on Iraqi chemical and biological weapons to make the case for war.

Dr Kelly, 59, was a microbiologist who took a central role in United Nations arms inspections in Iraq, and was a renowned authority on that country's chemical and biological weapons programme.

He knew better than most - probably better than anyone else - how quickly Saddam Hussein could activate his weapons. A precise man, he was irritated by inaccuracy, and believed that the dossier had exaggerated intelligence for effect.

Several months ago, before the start of the war, Dr Kelly had an opportunity to confront Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, about the dossier when they bumped into each other in the MoD canteen.

What passed between them is unknown, but conversations between Dr Kelly and Tom Mangold, a television journalist and friend of the dead scientist, suggest that he was highly sceptical of the dossier's claim that biological and chemical weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes.

"We laughed about that," Mangold later recalled. "He reminded me it would take the most efficient handlers at least 45 minutes just to pour the chemicals or load the biological agents into the warheads."

That claim was a simplification at best of information supplied by a senior Iraqi military officer, an MI6 agent-in-place. But it had arrived on ministers' desks in August, even as the dossier was being prepared. It was always bound to hold pride of place. But it was not enough to satisfy Dr Kelly.

So when he met Andrew Gilligan, the BBC Today programme's defence correspondent, on Thursday May 22 he was determined to get the point across.

They met in the dining room of the Charing Cross Hotel. Although very close to Whitehall and the MoD, it was relatively safe. By the time the brief meeting was over Gilligan had his story.

A week later, on May 29, Gilligan reported that he had been informed by a source involved in compiling the dossier (Dr Kelly) that Downing Street had pressed for the insertion into the dossier of the claim that Iraq could deploy nerve and germ agents in 45 minutes.

It was from a single source and had come in late, Gilligan said correctly, something he could never have guessed. He added: "What this person says is that a week before the publication date of the dossier it was actually rather a bland production. Downing Street . . . ordered it to be sexed up, to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be 'discovered'."

This had led to disquiet within the intelligence services, the source had claimed. No 10 issued an immediate denial, saying: "Not one word of the dossier was not entirely the work of the intelligence agencies."

Later that day Gavin Hewitt, of BBC television news, rang Dr Kelly and then, on the Ten O'Clock News, reported an unidentified source as saying: "In the final week before publication some material was taken out and some put in. Some spin from No 10 did come into play."

Gilligan went further in an article written for the Mail on Sunday of June 1, writing that his source (Dr Kelly again) had named the Government's director of communications and strategy, Alastair Campbell, as the one who had insisted on adding the 45-minute claim.

Dr Kelly had also been speaking to Susan Watts of BBC2's Newsnight. They held conversations in late May and early June.

On June 2 Watts reported: "Our source made clear that in the run-up to publishing the dossier the Government was obsessed with finding intelligence on immediate Iraq threats, and the Government's insistence that the Iraqi threat was 'imminent' was a Downing Street interpretation of intelligence conclusions."

Luckily for the BBC, Watts taped the conversation. Richard Sambrook, the corporation's director of news, was said to have smiled broadly after listening to the tape, which is said to include references to Campbell's role in the dossier. The recording will be given to the Hutton inquiry.

The Government issued a rebuttal to Gilligan's original report, but there was little sign of the storm to come when senior BBC news executives dined at No 10 on June 12.

On June 19 Gilligan gave evidence to the Commons foreign affairs select committee, which was investigating the Government's presentation of the case for war. He refused to name his source.

The issue detonated on June 25 when Mr Campbell appeared before the committee, denied adding material to the dossier and demanded an apology from the BBC for its "lies". He did, however, admit that he had been intimately involved in the dossier's presentation, suggesting amendments if they were acceptable to the Joint Intelligence Committee. Dr Kelly was now beginning to feel the heat.

The following Monday, June 30, Dr Kelly was back at work, where there was considerable discussion of the testimony at the foreign affairs committee.

The key moment came when one of Dr Kelly's colleagues read a passage where Gilligan quoted his source as saying: "I believe it is 30 per cent likely that there was a CW [chemical weapons] programme in the six months before the war and, more likely, that there was a BW [biological weapons] programme, but it was small because you could not conceal a larger programme. The sanctions were actually quite effective; they did limit the programme."

The colleague pointed out that the source was using the precise phraseology used by Dr Kelly in his discussions with colleagues in recent months. Dr Kelly realised that the game was up. He needed to come clean.

He appears to have decided on a strategy of damage limitation. He would admit being the source for some of the information but not all of it. The 45-minute claim was the damaging detail. His knowledge of it came from secret intelligence, and he might be charged under the Official Secrets Act.

The career he loved would be over, and what of his pension? He was a year away from retirement. He had at all costs to limit the damage.

Dr Kelly wrote to his immediate boss, the head of the MoD's Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, and explained that he thought he might have been the source of some, but crucially not all, of the Gilligan story.

For several days, there was confusion over what to do. Dr Kelly spoke to journalists all the time, and the MoD allowed him to do so. On the face of it, he had done nothing more than he had always been allowed to do previously.

Dr Kelly was also due to go to Iraq at the weekend as a key adviser on the Iraq Survey Group that was hunting for evidence of Saddam's programme of weapons of mass destruction.

But he reckoned without Mr Campbell's determination to force the BBC to apologise. When Mr Hoon was finally told on Thursday July 3, the civil servants were ordered to take action. The following day, Dr Kelly was interviewed by his boss, the MoD director of personnel, Richard Hatfield.

What was said is not clear, but we do know that, in the MoD's own words, Dr Kelly was told to go away for the weekend and "think over his options".

He spent the weekend with his wife at their home in Southmoor, Oxfordshire, and on Monday July 7 he returned to more questioning, just as the foreign affairs committee was clearing Mr Campbell.

At this point, Dr Kelly had agreed to appear before the Commons intelligence and security committee to discuss his meeting with Gilligan. The meeting would be in camera and Dr Kelly was promised - again in the MoD's own words - that it would be "in complete confidence".

Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MoD's most senior civil servant, told Mr Hoon that Dr Kelly had been promised that he would remain anonymous.

But a number of sources have told The Telegraph and other newspapers that Mr Hoon refused to accept that as an option - an allegation the MoD has yet to deny. That afternoon, there was a high-level strategy meeting, presided over by Mr Hoon and including Sir Kevin and a number of other senior MoD officials including Mr Hatfield and Pam Teare, the MoD's director of news, at which the official policy was decided.

The MoD would issue a statement citing an anonymous official who had come forward to say he believed he was Gilligan's source for some of his report, the implication being that the rest was made up. It would not release Dr Kelly's name but if any journalist came to it with the name it would confirm it.

The statement appears to have taken some time to compile, almost certainly because it had to be put together in conjunction with Downing Street, but also to conform with guidelines on the naming of officials. It was finally issued late on Tuesday July 8 after Dr Kelly, who was then driving along a motorway, stopped at a service station to clear it.

At the same time, Downing Street made it clear that Mr Campbell remained angry at what he saw as a BBC slur against him, although no actual BBC report had ever named him.

The following day Mr Hoon named Dr Kelly in a letter to Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman.

The letter claimed that Dr Kelly was not a senior intelligence source nor somebody involved in the preparation of the September dossier, and challenged Mr Davies to confirm that the MoD scientist was the BBC's source.

The BBC remains convinced that the letter was a deliberate device to make it look as though it was to blame when Dr Kelly's name came out. Because alongside the official policy of not naming Dr Kelly, there was an unofficial policy designed to ensure that his name did enter the public domain.

By Wednesday July 9, selected Downing Street and MoD officials were leaking details of Dr Kelly's career designed to assist journalists to identify him. But that was not deemed to be enough, and as an insurance policy at least two journalists working at Westminster were leaked Dr Kelly's name.

Downing Street said the individual named in Mr Hoon's letter had no access to intelligence briefings and could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as a "senior and credible source".

Neither claim turned out to be true. Not only did Dr Kelly have access to intelligence briefings, he actually gave them and, in terms of his knowledge of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, was both "senior and credible".

The pressure on Dr Kelly was growing. He was taken, for at least one night, to a house near Southend Airport in Essex where he is reported to have been seen by two MoD civil servants, including Mr Hatfield, during which a formal 30-minute conversation was tape-recorded.

His interrogators were said to have asked him if he wanted to take his wife to Jersey, where a house belonging to the Foreign Office would be made available. Dr Kelly declined.

On Thursday July 10, both the foreign affairs committee and the security and intelligence committee wanted to interview Dr Kelly.

On Tuesday July 15, he testified before the foreign affairs committee. Obviously under stress, his performance was less than convincing.

Read the transcript of an interview conducted by Newsnight's Watts, he said: "I do not recognise those comments." He latched on to the questioner's reference to a meeting that he had with Watts, failing to point out that the interview was conducted by telephone.

"The meeting I had with her was on November 5 last year and I remember that precisely because I gave a presentation in the Foreign Office on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," he said. "I cannot believe that on that occasion I made that statement."

Asked by another MP if he had met or talked to her since, Dr Kelly then admitted having spoken to Watts by telephone "about four or five times" since.

Asked if any of those conversations were in May, he replied ambiguously: "I cannot precisely remember. I was abroad for a fair part of the time in May, but it is possible, yes." Asked directly if he had had "any conversations or meetings with Gavin Hewitt", he relied: "Not that I am aware of, no. I am pretty sure I have not."

The clear appearance of dissembling continued when Dr Kelly was asked if he and Gilligan had discussed Mr Campbell at their May 22 meeting.

Dr Kelly then talked about everything but Mr Campbell until he was specifically asked about the reference to Mr Campbell in Gilligan's Mail on Sunday article, in which Gilligan said he had asked his source how the transformation of the dossier occurred.

"The answer was a single word. Campbell." Had he used the word Campbell in that context? one of the MPs asked. The simple answer would have been yes or no.

But Dr Kelly moved uncomfortably in his seat, closed his eyes tightly and looked down as if trying to remember before finally saying: "I cannot recall using the name Campbell in that context, it does not sound like a thing that I would say."

The humiliation was made all the greater when he was labelled by Andrew Mackinlay, a Labour member of the committee, as a "fall guy" and "chaff".

Lying was not easy for Dr Kelly, who was regarded by all who knew him as a man of integrity with a scientist's regard for accuracy and the truth. Four years ago he converted to the Baha'i religion, which promotes global unity.

Roger Kingdon, a fellow member of the Baha'i group in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, attended by Dr Kelly, said: "I will remember him as a person of tremendous integrity and self containment."

Dr Kelly, he said, had given a talk to the group about his experiences as a weapons inspector in Iraq in October last year, after the dossier had been published.

Mr Kingdon said: "He had no doubt that they [the Iraqis] had biological and chemical weapons. He didn't comment on that while everyone else was there, but separately I asked him - because the dossier had just come out.

"He said he had been sitting with Jack Straw when the dossier was released to the public. It was clear that David Kelly was largely happy with the material in the dossier, but he was not so happy with how the material had been interpreted."

So how would he have coped with the knowledge that he had lied? Mr Kingdon repeated a quotation from a Baha'i text.

"The individual must be educated to such a high degree that he would rather have his throat cut than tell a lie, or think it easier to be slashed with a sword or pierced with a spear than to utter calumny."

No one knows exactly what was going through Dr Kelly's mind on the morning of Thursday July 17 as, in his usual diligent way, he finished a report for the FCO. One clue, however, is provided in an e-mail to a journalist on the New York Times in which he wrote of "dark actors" at work around him.

Friends, concerned by his demeanour when giving evidence before the foreign affairs committee, had been trying to e-mail him for some time, and he dutifully replied to their inquiries.

Alistair Hay, an expert on biological weapons at Leeds University, was one of them. He said: "His [Kelly's] demeanour before the select committee suggested someone who wasn't in control, in some difficulty, and I was worried by that.

"I feel there had been something going on behind the scenes, something that was being articulated in his demeanour. He had got to the point where something seemed irreconcilable."

That Thursday Dr Kelly finally replied to his e-mail, saying: "Many thanks for your support. Hopefully it will soon pass and I can get to Baghdad and get on with the real job."

He also sent an e-mail to Mr Kingdon, which was quite up-beat, saying: 'Well, things have been pretty hectic, yes. Thanks for your words of concern, but I'm hopeful things will be calming down in a week or so and I'll be going back to Baghdad.' " But he never did.

Harrowdown Hill is pure England. A gentle rise in the countryside of south Oxfordshire crowned by a wood, it is approached through sunken lanes shaded by trees.

Dr Kelly had often walked the footpaths and lanes that led to the hill, a few miles from his home. On the evening of July 17 he made his last visit.

Leaving his house in Southmoor at about 3pm, he set off down nearby Beggar's Lane and shortly after was seen in Harris Lane near the A420. That was the last time he was seen alive.

The MoD subsequently issued a statement saying it had not threatened Dr Kelly's pension or threatened him with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. However, no mention was made of whether it would have withdrawn his security clearance, an act that would have effectively ended his career.

©Copyright 2003, Telegraph (UK)

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