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Hutton inquiry turns to Kelly's final hours

By FT staff
Published: September 2 2003 10:02 | Last Updated: September 2 2003 16:06

Professor Keith Hawton, an expert on suicide, told the Hutton inquiry on Tuesday that, taking all the evidence into account, he was "well nigh certain" that Dr David Kelly had taken his own life.

The main factor that convinced him that this was the case was the "severe loss of self-esteem" suffered by Dr Kelly as a result of the media furore surrounding the Iraq dossier affair.

Dr Kelly apparently slit his wrist in the wake of being forced to give evidence to a televised parliamentary inquiry about a briefing he gave to Andrew Gilligan, a BBC reporter, on the subject of Iraq's weapons capability.

Police said they later found a letter from the MoD reprimanding Dr Kelly for giving the unauthorised briefing, unopened in his briefcase.

The affair had left the weapons scientist with the feeling that people had lost trust in him, combined with dismay at being exposed to the media, which would have been "anathema" to such a private man, said Prof Hawton.

Among the other factors that convinced Professor Hawton that Dr Kelly had committed suicide was the location in which the body was found, the nature of his injury, the instrument chosen, and the medication used.

This was despite the fact that only hours before he left his house, Dr Kelly had sent a series of emails to friends, expressing the hope that the weapons dossier affair would soon blow over so that he could get back to work in Iraq, said Prof Hawton.

The body of Dr Kelly was found in a secluded spot, slumped against a tree, with no signs of any struggle, the police officers who found the weapons scientist had told the inquiry earlier.

"This area itself was remarkable for its complete lack of human interference," said Martyn Sawyer one of the officers testifying at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

He added: "When I first saw Dr Kelly, I was very aware of the serious nature of the search and I was looking for signs of perhaps a struggle, but all the undergrowth that was surrounding Dr Kelly's body was standing upright and there was no sign of any form of struggle at all."

Ruth Absalom, a neighbour of Dr Kelly who was the last person to see the weapons scientist alive, had earlier told the inquiry there had been nothing to indicate anything out of the ordinary in her encounter with Dr Kelly.

The pensioner, who spoke to Dr Kelly on his final walk to woods near his home near Abingdon, Oxfordshire, was the first in a series of witnesses, whose testimony helped to build up a picture of the weapons scientist's state of mind in the hours before his apparent suicide.

Miss Absalom told the inquiry she and Dr Kelly had exchanged a few words of greetings and then parted.

On Monday, Dr Kelly's widow, told the inquiry her husband had been "heartbroken" and "betrayed" by his treatment at the hands of his employers for letting his name become public.

In her first public statements, Janice Kelly had offered damning evidence of the MoD's failure, in her view, to provide adequate support to Dr Kelley during what was clearly an ordeal for him. She said he was treated "rather like a fly".

Monday's hearings also raised potentially damaging questions for Tony Blair, the prime minister, who told the inquiry last week he took responsibility for decisions that led to the confirmation of Mr Kelly's name as the source for a BBC report claiming the government had "sexed up" a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Dr Kelly's family had betrayed no signs of premonition on the morning after his disappearance that Dr Kelly might have taken his own life, and remained upbeat that he would be found alive, police officers told the inquiry.

Dr Malcolm Warner, who had been Dr Kellys GP for 25 years, told the inquiry that the scientist had never shown any signs of depression and that he had not seen him as a patient for four years.

The inquiry also heard from and Barney Leith, UK head of the Baha'i faith, who confirmed that Dr Kelly was a recent convert to the Baha'i faith, which preaches universal peace and emphasises truthfulness, after discovering the religion in 1999 while working for the UN in New York.

When he returned to Oxfordshire, Dr Kelly continued to follow the faith, attending meetings organised by the local spiritual assembly, said Mr Leith.

He said that although Baha'i writings condemned suicide, "Baha'is and Baha'i institutions do not and never would take a condemnatory attitude to people who unfortunately commit suicide."

©Copyright 2003, Financial Times (UK)

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