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September 27, 2003

Oxford coroner may reopen Kelly inquest

By Laura Peek

A CORONER’S inquest into the death of David Kelly may go ahead after several witnesses refused to let their statements be passed to the Hutton inquiry.

Police interviewed 500 people, took 300 witness statements and seized more than 700 documents in their investigation into Dr Kelly's death, but fewer than 70 statements were given to Lord Hutton. Most were not passed on because they were not deemed relevant by police.

But at least five witnesses — including Mai Pederson, the American linguist who introduced Dr Kelly to the Baha’i faith — refused to let their statements be seen by the inquiry, The Times has learnt.

Nicholas Gardiner, the Oxfordshire Coroner, said that he would study Lord Hutton’s report and may then ask police to hand over the missing statements before deciding whether to reopen the formal inquest. He said: “Why these individuals concerned do not want their evidence to go forward I do not know. I shall ask police to show them to me if necessary.”

The inquest was adjourned under Section 17a of the 1988 Coroners Act, which allows a public inquiry conducted by a judge to fulfil the function of an inquest, and Lord Hutton’s report will include a verdict similar to that recorded at a coroner’s court.

The coroner could, however, still hold his own hearing, although Mr Gardiner said he was reluctant to do so unless there were gaps in the Hutton report, because of the distress it would cause Dr Kelly’s family. The witnesses who refused to allow Lord Hutton to see their statements took advantage of a caveat on the statement form which read: “Do you agree for your statement to be released to Lord Hutton for use in his inquiry?” The caveat was included because the Hutton inquiry was a judicial inquiry, not a coroner’s inquest, but it has caused confusion in the police investigation. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Young, who is heading the investigation, said: “The Hutton inquiry was taking the place of a formal inquest. It was never actually tested whether Lord Hutton had the full powers of a coroner and whether the inquest part of the inquiry had the right to see the statements. It is not 100 per cent crystal clear.”

A spokeswoman for the inquiry said: “Lord Hutton aims to present his report to Lord Falconer (of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor) in December. Lord Falconer will then provide a copy of the report to the coroner. The coroner will read it and make a decision about whether he wishes to reopen the inquest or whether he is satisfied with the findings.”

©Copyright 2003, Times (UK)

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