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British Weapons Expert Felt Betrayed, Widow Says

Account of Kelly's Last Days Contradicts Testimony of Defense Officials; News Media Also Blamed

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 2, 2003; Page A15

LONDON, Sept. 1 -- In the days before his death, British weapons expert David Kelly felt a growing sense of despair and betrayal at the hands of both the government and the news media, his widow testified today.

Janice Kelly, speaking publicly for the first time since her husband's apparent suicide, told an inquiry he had appeared exhausted and increasingly despondent after he learned that officials in the Defense Ministry had identified him to journalists as the likely source for a controversial BBC report.

The report, which alleged that officials in Prime Minister Tony Blair's office had knowingly exaggerated intelligence claims concerning Iraq's access to weapons of mass destruction, triggered a political storm between the government and the BBC in which Kelly found himself in the middle.

On July 17, the last day of his life, two days after he had been forced to testify publicly before a House of Commons committee, her husband seemed totally spent, she said. "I just thought he had a broken heart," she testified.

Her testimony directly contradicted that of several Defense Ministry officials who said they had informed Kelly before they released a statement saying an unnamed official had come forward and then provided details that helped journalists identify him.

"He said several times that he felt totally let down and betrayed" by ministry officials, Janice Kelly said, "because they were the ones that had effectively let his name be known in the public domain."

Kelly had been led to believe his name would not be revealed, she said. "He had received assurances, and that's why he was so very upset about it."

But Kelly was also upset by newspaper stories that suggested he had given interviews to reporters and that cited sources claiming that he was merely a low-level ministry employee, rather than one of Britain's foremost experts on weapons of mass destruction, Janice Kelly said. He was particularly unhappy about an article that made it appear as though he had given an unauthorized interview to London Sunday Times journalist Nick Rufford. Janice Kelly said her husband had spoken to Rufford for only four to five minutes in his front yard before asking the reporter to leave.

Testifying by audio link from a private room within the Royal Courts of Justice, where the inquiry is being held, Janice Kelly spoke in a careful, measured voice that seldom betrayed emotion. But her testimony etched a poignant portrait of a man driven over the edge by circumstances that grew beyond his control, while concerned family members and friends were helpless to intervene. Other relatives, including Kelly's daughter Rachel and his sister, Sarah Pape, also testified.

Janice Kelly described her husband of 36 years as an intense, but emotionally distant man who had not informed her when he converted to the Bahai faith five years ago, nor when he wrote a note to his immediate supervisor in late June disclosing he had met with BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan one week before Gilligan's May 29 broadcast report. Kelly, 59, who had worked for the government for nearly two decades and had visited Iraq nearly 40 times in the 1990s to track down weapons of mass destruction, was at times upset by his low pay grade and by the fact that he would probably have to retire at age 60, she said.

The BBC report, which triggered heated denials from Blair's office, cited a confidential source alleging Blair's aides had insisted that a dubious claim be inserted in an intelligence dossier last September even though they "probably knew" it was wrong.

While she knew nothing of the growing controversy, Janice Kelly said she noticed that her husband was looking tired and strained and had become "much more taciturn. He became more difficult to talk to and we, the family, expressed this worry to each other." He returned from a trip to Baghdad in mid-June even more exhausted, she said.

On July 8, she said, she and her husband were watching the evening news. In its lead story, the broadcast reported that the Defense Ministry had disclosed that an unnamed official had come forward to claim he was the source of the BBC report. Kelly turned to her and said, "It's me."

"My reaction was total dismay," she recalled. "My heart sank."

She said her husband seemed "desperately unhappy" about the report. "He said that he knew from that point that the press would soon put two and two together," she testified.

The next evening, she said, Rufford pulled up unannounced outside their Oxfordshire home west of London to warn Kelly he would probably be named that evening and that "the press were on their way in droves." Rufford said media magnate Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sunday Times, was offering the Kellys hotel accommodations in exchange for an exclusive article.

Kelly told Rufford to leave. "He got the impression from Nick that the gloves were off now and that Nick would use David's name in any article that he wrote," Janice Kelly said.

Her husband phoned ministry officials, who warned him to leave home immediately. The couple packed quickly and fled 10 minutes later to a friends' cottage in southwest England. "He was obviously exceedingly upset," she said. "We both were." She added, "I couldn't comfort him. He seemed to withdraw into himself completely."

Officials told him the next day he would have to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and that the testimony would be televised. "He was ballistic," Janice Kelly recalled. "He just did not like that idea at all. He felt it would be a kind of continuation of a kind of reprimand into the public domain."

Kelly testified before the committee on July 15. He came home "tense and tired," she said.

"He couldn't put two sentences together," she said "He couldn't talk at all."

She said she was also physically ill, suffering from arthritis and stress. On the afternoon of July 17, while she lay down for a nap, he came in to say he was going out. His last words to her: "I will probably go for my walk."

When he did not return home, two of his daughters went to search for him, and the police were called. His body was found the next morning, his left wrist slashed with his old Boy Scout knife nearby.

©Copyright 2003, Washington Post (DC, USA)

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