Beyond breaking point
A poignant account of how Dr Kelly diedLeader
Tuesday September 2, 2003
Lord Hutton was put in place to investigate not, as it sometimes seems from reports from the courtroom, the rights and wrongs of war with Iraq or the feud between the government and the BBC, but the circumstances in which the government scientist Dr David Kelly died. Since he left no suicide note, even Lord Hutton cannot arrive at a truly definitive answer, but yesterday, in the evidence of his widow Janice and daughter Rachel, we got as close as anyone could to understanding what drove him to finish his life.
It began with the portrayal of a troubled man, feeling undervalued and worried about his future. It developed into a compelling account of how, as the pressures built, he was driven to breaking point. Though Mrs Kelly's evidence was at all times calm and restrained, there were here and there explosive words such as betrayal: his betrayal - his own word - at the hands of superiors who were ready to feed his name to the press, who failed to give him support when he so needed it, who were even content, as the media pack closed in, to leave him to find his own place to hide. If the MoD (and behind them, as we now know, 10 Downing Street) were cold and neglectful, the media, descending on the Kellys' Oxfordshire village, were predatory. Here, too, there was a betrayal, as the Sunday Times, on the basis of a fraught and hurried conversation, printed what looked like a full-scale interview, inevitably suggesting, Dr Kelly believed, that he had broken his word not to talk to the press.
The big events, such as the call to appear before select committees, one of them televised, and the small, unremarked ones tightened the pressure. Jack Straw, or so someone told Dr Kelly, had been disappointed that no one more senior could be found to accompany him when the foreign secretary met the foreign affairs select committee. Yet again, this acknowledged expert, who lived for a job to which he subordinated everything else in his life, had been demeaned and slighted - treated, he said, like a fly.
The scenes at the end - the Kellys' flight to the west country, Mrs Kelly's attempt to lift his spirits by taking him to the Eden project and, back home in Oxfordshire, his silences, his numbing tiredness, his unwillingness or inability to unburden himself to his wife - all these overwhelmingly portrayed a man at the end of his tether. On his final morning, the court was told, Mrs Kelly herself was so distraught at her husband's dejection that several times she was sick. When he left for the walk in the woods, Mrs Kelly said, she had no idea of what he intended: yet to those who heard this testimony, this final bid to escape seemed almost inevitable.
The one missing element, to be explored in tomorrow's proceedings, was Dr Kelly's subscription to the Baha'i faith, which attaches supreme importance to telling the truth at all times. For the moment, though, because the political stakes are so high, scores will be kept of who came off best and who worst from yesterday's evidence: the government, most will judge, badly; the BBC, except as one component of a ravening media, almost unscathed. But a more appropriate final word came from the daughter to whom he was closest. "My heartfelt wish," she said, "is that as a result of your inquiry, my Lord, people will learn from the circumstances surrounding my father's death and show more compassion and kindliness to those around him." It would be good if these words were still remembered and honoured long after Lord Hutton had closed his proceedings. Good, but, alas, unlikely.
©Copyright 2003, Guardian (UK)
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