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Louise Holmes, a police dog handler, described discovering Dr Kelly’s body slumped against a tree.

Last hours of a man decided on death


THE last hours of Dr David Kelly were laid out before the Hutton Inquiry yesterday, as friends and experts painted a sad picture of his fragile mental state.

Politics was cast aside as evidence was taken into what Dr Kelly had been thinking during his final hours on the day he took his final walk.

The last person to see the weapons expert alive was his elderly neighbour, Ruth Absalom, who met him as she walked with her dog, Buster, near her Oxfordshire home.

Miss Absalom, who gave evidence to the inquiry via a video link from Oxford, appeared still bemused by how "absolutely normal" Dr Kelly had appeared on 17 July.

She told the inquiry: "We just stopped and said hello, had a chat. He said ‘Hello Ruth’. I said ‘Hello David, how are things?’. He said, ‘Not too bad’.

"We stood there for a few moments and then Buster, my dog, was pulling on the lead, he wanted to get going. I said ‘I will have to go, David’. He said ‘See you again, then, Ruth’. And that was it, we parted."

James Dingemans, QC to the inquiry, then asked Miss Absalom how Dr Kelly had appeared to her that day.

Looking aghast she replied: "Just his normal self, no different to any other time when I met him."

Dr Kelly walked on to a remote beauty spot in the Harrowdown Hills. There, he died, far from the public spotlight he was briefly forced into, the inquiry heard yesterday.

His body was found slumped against the foot of a tree in a wooded copse with his left wrist slashed. The Scout knife he had had since childhood was by his side along with a bottle of his wife’s painkillers and a bottle of water.

The scientist had removed his cap and watch. There were no signs of a struggle and an expert confirmed for the first time to the inquiry that Dr Kelly had taken his own life.

Two volunteer search and rescue experts told the inquiry how they had discovered the body of Dr Kelly in the early hours of 18 July. They had been drafted into the search for the scientist by the police eager to make the use of their dog, Brock, and his training as a hearing dog for the deaf.

Louise Holmes described how her dog had picked up "something obviously not quite the same as a normal search or a normal training exercise" because instead of taking her to the scene, he lay down on the ground and looked at his owner.

She went deeper into the wood to investigate and saw the body of Dr Kelly, dressed in a shirt and jeans, slumped against the bottom of a tree.

"He was at the base of the tree with almost his head on his shoulders, just slumped back against the tree," Miss Holmes said.

"His legs were straight in front of him, his right arm was to the side of him, his left arm had a lot of blood on it and was bent back in a funny position."

Miss Holmes said she was convinced the body was that of the missing Dr Kelly, that he was dead, "and there was nothing I could do to help him".

She said she was there for "probably only a couple of minutes", just long enough to check for signs of life.

Two paramedics told the inquiry they had tried to pick up a pulse from Dr Kelly’s body by attaching electrocardiogram pads to his chest, but failed as he had been dead for some time.

Vanessa Hunt, one of the paramedics, said: "On his left arm, which was outstretched to the left of him, there was some dried blood."

The medics found no heart activity and they gave the police three printed strips from their equipment which showed the time of the checks.

Their evidence clears up earlier confusion over why heart pads were found on his chest.

A police witness gave an insight into how frenzied Dr Kelly’s life had become amid pressure on him to respond to the Ministry of Defence’s questioning and annoyance about his involvement in the BBC story which claimed evidence against Iraq had been "sexed up".

Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Webb of Thames Valley Police said he had discovered various documentation in Dr Kelly’s study after his death relating to the issue, including an unopened letter of reprimand from the MoD.

Dr Kelly was a convert to the Baha’i faith and yesterday Barney Leith, the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, said its website was "clarifying the issue" of suicide.

He said although Baha’i teaching condemned suicide, it did not take a condemnatory attitude to people who take their own lives.

The scientist’s GP, Dr Malcolm Warner, told the inquiry he had not seen Dr Kelly for four years and that his patient had no history of depression.

The inquiry then heard from Professor Keith Hawton, a consultant psychiatrist and the director of the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University who has carried out a detailed investigation into Dr Kelly’s death. He said Dr Kelly’s "normal" behaviour on the day he died was "consistent with the notion he had made his decision before that to end his life, or try to end his life".

Prof Hawton said that, among people who had committed suicide, it was not unusual for those who knew them to say that their mental state seemed improved. "It is having, in a sense, decided how to deal with the problem that leads to a sort of sense of peace and calm," he said.

Asked when he believed Dr Kelly was likely to have formed the intention to commit suicide, Prof Hawton said: "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."

Reasons for suicide including ill-health, family stress, financial worries or depression were ruled out categorically by Prof Hawton - although he described the scientist from his conversations with his widow, Janice, as "shocked, broken and humiliated".

He added: "One gains the impression of escalating distress during that morning."

Mr Dingemans asked what he considered the factors that led to Dr Kelly’s death.

Prof Hawton said: "I think, as far as we can deduce, the major factor was the severe loss of self-esteem resulting from his feeling people had lost the trust in him and from his dismay at being exposed to the media."

Asked why, he added: "Well, he talked a lot about it and I think being such a private man, this was an anathema to him to be exposed publicly and in a sense he would have seen it as being publicly disgraced."

©Copyright 2003, The Scotsman (UK)

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