Special report: Hutton inquiry
Evidence 'consistent' with suicideCiar Byrne
Tuesday September 2, 2003
A leading psychiatrist who has considered the evidence surrounding the death of David Kelly said today it was "well nigh certain" that he committed suicide.
Keith Hawton, professor of psychiatry at Oxford University, said both the physical evidence and the information he had seen concerning Dr Kelly's mental state pointed to suicide.
"I think that taking all the evidence together it is well nigh certain that he committed suicide," Professor Hawton said.
Prof Hawton said the suicide was also consistent with the fact his elderly neighbour, Ruth Absalom, had said he seemed "perfectly normal" when she met him about a mile away from his house on the day he went for his fateful walk.
"It is consistent with the notion he had made his decision before that to end his life, or try to end his life."
It was not an unusual experience in people who had died by suicide, he said, for people who knew them to say that shortly before suicide they seemed better.
"It is having, in a sense, decided how to deal with the problem that leads to a sort of sense of peace and calm," said Prof Hawton.
"It is my opinion that it is likely he formed the intention either during the morning, probably later in the morning, or during the early part of the afternoon before he went on that walk."
He said Dr Kelly might have suffered a "severe loss of esteem" and a sense of "public disgrace" in the wake of his "outing" as a possible source for the BBC story claiming the government had sexed up the Iraq intelligence dossier.
And he said Dr Kelly's experiences as a weapons inspector, involving cross-examination of other people, and his own interrogation by the Ministry of Defence and the foreign affairs select committee were signficantly different.
"One has heard about the situation, for example, in Iraq where he was cross-examining people, which seemed quite terrifying to me, it was the situation he could cope with extremely well.
"The problems he was facing shortly before his death, these really challenged his identity of himself, his self esteem, his self worth, his image of himself."
He said Dr Kelly "appeared to have been somewhat of a perfectionist. He liked things to be just so". He appeared not to like change and that even included changes around the household.
Prof Hawton said the public naming of Dr Kelly appeared to have caused him particular distress.
"It seemed to be extremely painful for him. Being a very private person, I think the idea that he would not only be questioned but this would be in public and on television, I think this was extremely difficult for him."
He added that, from having watched a video of Dr Kelly's appearance before the FAC, he gathered the impression it was a very difficult experience for him.
"There were clearly times during the interview when he became uncomfortable and became almost confused, he seemed quite uncertain.
"He seemed to have been very distressed by that hearing. He gave the impression of having felt belittled by some of the questioning and I gather that he expressed, unusually for him, a certain degree of anger about particular questioning that he received."
Dr Kelly's daughter Rachel yesterday told the inquiry how her father had uncharacteristically described one of the MPs on the committee as "an utter bastard".
Prof Hawton told the inquiry what Rachel Kelly had said to him about her father's appearance when he returned home from the hearing on Tuesday July 15. "She told me that when he came home he appeared to be 'shocked, broken and humiliated'. It was obviously a very, very stressful experience for him."
Ms Kelly had earlier told Lord Hutton that her father had seemed to enjoy a meal with her and her fiance the night before he disappeared. However, as he was leaving, she recognised a look of pressure returning to his face.
Prof Hawton today gave his impression of that incident.
"The striking moment for me was when he left Rachel's house, when she talked about a particular haunted look in his eye, which was somewhat in contrast to how he had been during the meal."
Prof Hawton said that his impression of Dr Kelly on the morning before he disappeared was one of "escalating distress".
"I gained the impression that during that morning there was an escalation in his distress which became particularly marked around late morning when he emerged from his study, which was unusual for him.
"Mrs Kelly described yesterday how he went into the sitting room and slumped into a chair, which was an unusual thing for him to do. One gains the impression of escalating distress during that morning."
However, said Prof Hawton, at around 11.18am on Thursday July 17, Dr Kelly had sent a series of emails to friends and colleagues, suggesting he was not entertaining definite ideas of suicide at that time.
One of the emails in response to an email said: "Many thanks for your thoughts. It has been difficult. Hopefully it will all be over by the end of the week and I can travel to Baghdad and get on with the real work."
Prof Hawton said the physical evidence of Dr Kelly's body, the place where it was found, and the manner of his death strongly pointed to suicide. However, he asked the media only to refer to the manner of Dr Kelly's death in general terms, because of evidence that reporting of the specifics of suicides can encourage others.
"When considering something like this, one obviously has to consider whether there could have been some other person or persons involved. There were no signs of violence on his body other than injuries to his wrist in keeping with some sort of struggle or violence, no sign of a trampling down of vegetation - so that makes it highly unlikely that others could have been, or were, involved."
Prof Hawton also gave a brief profile of the sort of person and the psychological conditions that are more prone to suicide. He said that amongst older people. individuals who are "perfectionistic" seem to be more at risk. He added that a feeling of isolation, a blow to self-esteem, or shame can also be factors in suicides.
Early this afternoon Barney Leith, the secretary of the national spiritual assembly of the Baha'i faith in the UK, said the belief system which Dr Kelly adopted in September 1999 did not condone suicide, although it did have sympathy for those like Dr Kelly driven to suicide.
Mr Leith rebuffed an article in the press which suggested Dr Kelly had spoken critically about the government's September dossier at a Baha'i meeting.
He said he had been present at the meeting in question, a privately arranged event, where Dr Kelly had spoken about his role as a weapons inspector but had not mentioned the dossier.
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