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UK Suicide Scientist at Heart of Iraq Dispute Buried

Wed August 6, 2003 09:07 AM ET
By Russell Boyce

LONGWORTH, England (Reuters) - An Iraq weapons expert whose suicide has plunged British leader Tony Blair into the worst crisis of his six-year rule was being buried on Wednesday at a country church near woodland where his body was found.

Even as friends and family attended the funeral at the picturesque 13th century St. Mary's Church a few miles from David Kelly's house, there was little let-up in the row over his death convulsing British politics and media.

Government critics were demanding the resignation of a Blair spokesman who caused outrage earlier in the week by comparing Kelly with fictional fantasist Walter Mitty.

The scientist was the anonymous source for a damning BBC report alleging London hyped Saddam Hussein's weapons capacity.

"It is bitterly ironic that a government that saw fit to employ Dr Kelly at the highest level, which trumpeted his expertise and praised his work for the United Nations, should now turn on him so monstrously," Professor Alastair Hay, a colleague of Kelly's, wrote in a newspaper article.

"And for Dr. Kelly's circle, the agony must be all the greater because the aftermath of his departure is being played out on a public stage, with controversy raging all around."

At the funeral in Longworth, a village in the central region of Oxfordshire, mourners carried Kelly's body into the church as a single bell tolled and police kept onlookers away.

The former U.N. inspector and government scientist was found dead on July 18 after becoming embroiled in the vicious political row over Blair's case for war in Iraq.

Kelly, 59, had endured growing pressure since his off-the-record briefing to the BBC led to a May 29 report saying the government had hyped up intelligence Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons within 45 minutes.

As the report dominated the wider debate over whether Blair misled Britons in his case for war, pressure to reveal Kelly's name grew and he was summoned to appear before two parliamentary inquiries for some aggressive questioning.

His death gave a grim twist to the political dispute, and left the "Westminister Village" of officials and journalists arguing over which of them had Kelly's blood on their hands.

A judicial inquiry into his death begins in earnest on Monday. Inquiry head Lord Hutton was at the funeral, as was Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to represent the government.

Tom Mangold, a journalist and friend of Kelly's, hailed his work on Iraq including dozens of visits.

"We are sending to his destiny a man who did so much to counteract evil and, ironically, one of the men who would have done most to discover weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Blair, and his Defense Minister Geoff Hoon -- whom some blame for giving Kelly's name to media just before his death -- were keeping a low profile on holiday in the Caribbean and the United States respectively.

The Kelly affair has been a disaster for Blair, sending his trust ratings down, reviving his government's reputation for "spin," and keeping attention on the failure to find the banned Iraqi weapons which London had given as its main reason for war.

It has also brought criticism of the BBC, with some saying the world-renowned public broadcaster compromised its standards and heightened the pressure on Kelly by sensationalizing what he anonymously told its reporter Andrew Gilligan.

Although Kelly's funeral was a Church of England service, there were elements of Bahai, the faith he converted to in 1999.

©Copyright 2003, REUTERS

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