Tuesday Sep 2 2003. All times are London timeComment & analysis / People in the news
Widow describes scientist's torment
David Kelly's widow yesterday spoke publicly for the first time of her husband's final days, giving the Hutton inquiry a poignant picture of a workaholic utterly unable to comprehend or deal with the growing storm that engulfed him.
After the political blame-shifting and back-covering of recent days, Janice Kelly's evidence came as a stark contrast, and a reminder of the personal grief at the heart of the affair.
For her own privacy, Mrs Kelly did not enter Court 73 but spoke from elsewhere in the Royal Courts of Justice over a microphone link. But that made her evidence, delivered in a controlled if rather quiet voice while a photograph of her in happier times appeared incongruously on the inquiry's monitor screens, no less powerful.
She said her husband had been withdrawn around the last week of June as the pressure built up on him, becoming "exhausted", "taut", "extremely upset" and "desperately unhappy".
Since he began concentrating on weapons monitoring around 1987, Mr Kelly had become a workaholic devoted to his job and was "not very good at holidays".
"I think he would have done the whole job for nothing had he not had to support a wife and family," Mrs Kelly said. But he was also deeply concerned that his pension would be inadequate and annoyed about his pay level in the Ministry of Defence. He felt he had been undervalued.
In sharp contrast to the portrayal of him as a Walter Mitty fantasist by the prime minister's official spokesman after his death, it emerged from documents found in his study that he was being considered for the 2004 new year's honours list. After his death, Mrs Kelly found the document with, scrawled on the top corner, the words: "How about David Kelly? Iraq is topical."
Mr Kelly was also an intensely private man who hated to talk about himself. She knew "only a little" about the Baha'i faith to which he converted about six years ago. "I realised he was reading the Koran and perhaps becoming gentler in his ways. It really was a spiritual revelation for him."
It was in late June that the pressure began to tell - when Mr Kelly wrote to his line manager admitting his contact with Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter - although his family had no idea of what had caused the mood change. "He became very much more taciturn. He became more difficult to talk to. He became more tense, withdrawn and we, as a fam ily, expressed this worry to each other."
It was on the evening of July 8 when the couple were watching Channel 4 news - the main story was a report that a potential source of the Iraq dossier allegations had identified himself - that she discovered what was happening.
Mr Kelly turned to his wife and said: "It's me."
"My heart sank," Mrs Kelly told the inquiry. "I knew then he was aware his name would be in the public domain quite soon."
That was confirmed the next evening when the MoD press office called to warn Mr Kelly that reporters were on their way. She said the couple packed and left the house "within about 10 minutes" and headed for a friend's holiday home in Cornwall. "He was obviously exceedingly upset, we both were, very anxious, very stressed."
In Cornwall, Mrs Kelly tried to help her husband cope with the pressure by visiting the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project. "I could not comfort him," she said. "He seemed to withdraw into himself completely."
She said her husband hated "becoming the story". "In all the Russian visits and all the difficulties he had in Iraq, where he had lots of horrors, guns pointing at him, munitions left lying around, I had never known him to be as unhappy as he was then."
Apparent attempts by the government to play down the scientist's credentials after his name emerged added to his misery. Press reports that he was just a middle-ranking official were belittling, she said. "He hated that. It was unfair."
She also told how he went "ballistic" when he was ordered to appear before the foreign affairs committee. "He felt it would be a... continuation of a kind of reprimand into the public domain."
After his grillings by the foreign affairs committee and the intelligence and security committee on July 15 and 16, "he was sort of used up". Back home on July 17, "he went to sit in the sitting room all by himself without saying anything".
He went out for one of his regular walks in the afternoon. By 6.30pm, one of the couple's daughters, Sian, and her partner set out along country lanes, scouring bus shelters and churches for him.
Mrs Kelly did not call the police until 11.40pm because she did not want to "make matters worse" if her husband had merely gone off to think. Her fears were realised the following morning, when police told her Mr Kelly had been found dead with his old Boy Scouts knife beside him.
©Copyright 2003, Financial Times (UK)
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