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David Christopher Kelly, CMG (14 May 1944–17 July 2003) was an employee of the United Kingdommarker Ministry of Defence (MoD), an expert in biological warfare and a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraqmarker. Kelly's discussion with BBC Radio4 Today Programme journalist Andrew Gilligan about the British government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq inadvertently caused a major political scandal. He was found dead days after appearing before the Parliamentarymarker committee charged with investigating the scandal. Many people tried to distance themselves from his death, including the BBC and the MOD. Dr Kelly's family felt very unhappy with the way he had been treated.

The Hutton Inquiry, a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death, ruled that he had committed suicide, and that Kelly had not in fact said some of the things attributed to him by Gilligan. The following day, 28 January 2004, the entire front page of The Independent was covered with a single word in giant letters: "WHITEWASH".


Kelly was born in Rhonddamarker in Walesmarker. He graduated from the University of Leedsmarker with a BSc, and subsequently obtained an MSc at the University of Birminghammarker. In 1971, he received his doctorate in microbiology from Linacre College, Oxfordmarker. In 1984, he joined the civil service, working at what is now Dstl Porton Downmarker, as head of the Defence Microbiology Division. He moved from there to work as an ad hoc advisor to the MoD and the Foreign Officemarker.

In 1989, Kelly was involved in investigations into the Soviet violations of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and was a key member of the inspection team visiting the former USSR on several occasions between 1991 and 1994. His experience with biological weapons at Porton Down led to his selection as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraqmarker following the end of the Gulf War. Kelly's work as a member of the UNSCOM team led him to visit Iraq thirty-seven times and his success in uncovering Iraq's biological weapons programme led to Rolf Ekéus nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1996. Although never a member of the intelligence services, the Secret Intelligence Servicemarker (MI6) regularly sought out his opinion on Iraq and other issues. David Kelly became a member of the Bahá'í Faith around the year 1999. He was introduced to this faith by Ms. Mai Pederson, a US military linguist and intelligence operative.

WMD dossier

Kelly's career specialisation led to confusion about his actual job, as he was frequently seconded to other departments. His job description included liaising with the media and he regularly acted as a confidential source, although rarely going on the record or appearing on-camera. In 2002, he was working for the Defence Intelligence Staff at the time of the compilation of a dossier by the Joint Intelligence Committee on the weapons of mass destruction possessed by Iraq. The government had commissioned the dossier as an element of the preparation for what later became the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Although not responsible for writing any part of the dossier, Kelly's experience of weapons inspections led to him being asked to proofread sections of the draft dossier on the history of inspections. Kelly was unhappy with some of the claims in the draft, particularly a claim, originating from August 2002, that Iraq was capable of firing battlefield biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes of an order to use them (simply known as "the 45 minute claim"). Kelly's colleagues queried the inclusion of the claim but their superiors were satisfied when they took it up with MI6 through the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Kelly believed it was most likely that Iraq had retained some biological weapons after the end of inspections. After the end of the ground war, he was invited to join the inspection team attempting to find any trace of weapons of mass destruction programmes, and was apparently enthusiastic about resuming his work there. He made two attempted trips to Iraq. The first was on 19 May 2003, when he was prevented from entering Iraq from Kuwait because he did not have the proper documentation.

The second trip was from 5 June 2003 - 11 June 2003, when Kelly went to view and photograph two alleged mobile weapons laboratories as a part of a third inspection team. Kelly was unhappy with the description of the trailers and spoke off the record to The Observer, which, on 15 June 2003, quoted "a British scientist and biological weapons expert, who has examined the trailers in Iraq." The expert said:

They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were - facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons.

It was confirmed in the Hutton Inquiry that Kelly was the source of this quote.

Contact with Andrew Gilligan

On 22 May 2003, at the Charing Cross hotel in London, Kelly met with Andrew Gilligan, a BBC journalist who had spent some time writing about the war in Baghdadmarker. Kelly was anxious to learn what had happened in Iraq, while Gilligan, who had discussed a very early draft of the dossier with Kelly, wished to ask him about it in light of the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction. They agreed to talk on an unattributable basis, which allowed the BBC to report what was said, but not to identify the source. Kelly told Gilligan of his concerns over the 45-minute claim and ascribed its inclusion in the dossier to Alastair Campbell, the director of communications for Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Gilligan broadcast his report on 29 May 2003 on the Today programme, in which he said that the 45-minute claim had been placed in the dossier by the government, even though it knew the claim was dubious. In a subsequent article in The Mail on Sunday newspaper, Gilligan directly identified Alastair Campbell as the person responsible. The story caused a political storm, with the government denying any involvement in the intelligence content of the dossier. The government pressed the BBC to reveal the name of the source because it knew that any source who was not a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee would not have known who had a role in the preparation of the dossier.

As the political fight ensued, Kelly knew he had talked to the journalist involved but felt that he had not said exactly what was reported. He also told his friend and work colleague Olivia Bosch that his meeting with Andrew Gilligan had been "unauthorised" and therefore outside his terms of employment. On 30 June 2003, he wrote to his line manager at the Ministry of Defence to report his contact with Gilligan, though he added "I am convinced that I am not his primary source of information."

Kelly was interviewed twice by his employers, who concluded that they could not be sure he was Gilligan's only source. Eventually they took the decision to publicise the fact that someone had come forward who might be the source. The announcement contained sufficient clues for alert journalists to guess Kelly's identity and the Ministry of Defence confirmed the name when it was put to them. This was not a normal procedure (it normally refuses to comment on such matters), and it has been suggested that the Ministry of Defence was implementing a government decision to reveal Kelly's name as part of a strategy to discredit Gilligan.

Kelly was extremely disturbed by the publicity and arranged with a family friend to leave his home and visit Cornwallmarker with his wife. He was asked to appear as a witness before two committees of the House of Commonsmarker that were investigating the situation in Iraq, and was further upset((fact}} by the news that one of the appearances would be in public. He had been given a formal warning by the Ministry of Defence for an unauthorised meeting with a journalist, and had been made to understand that they might take more action if it turned out he had been lying to them.

Appearance before House of Commons committees

When he appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 15 July 2003, Kelly appeared to be under severe stress, which was probably increased by the televising of the proceedings. He spoke with a voice so soft that the air-conditioning equipment had to be turned off on one of the hottest days of the year. His evidence to the committee was that he had not said the things Gilligan had reported his source as saying, and members of the committee came to the conclusion that he had not been the source. However, some of the questioning was extremely pointed and appeared disrespectful to Kelly; the MP Andrew MacKinlay, in particular, adopted an aggressive and confrontational tone in his own cross-examination. For example, when asked to list the journalists that he met, Kelly requested that the list be supplied via the MoD, which brought the riposte: '[...] This is the high court of Parliament and I want you to tell the Committee who you met. [...] You are under an obligation to reply.' and 'I reckon you are chaff; you have been thrown up to divert our probing. Have you ever felt like a fall-guy? You have been set up, have you not?'

Kelly had been deeply upset by his treatment before the Committee and he had privately described MacKinlay as an 'utter bastard.'

During the hearing, he was closely questioned about several quotes given to Susan Watts, another BBC journalist working on Newsnight, who had reported a similar story. It later emerged that Gilligan had himself told members of the committee that Watts' source was also Kelly. Kelly denied any knowledge of the quotes, and must have realised that he would have serious problems if the Ministry of Defence believed he had been the source of them.

On the following day, (16 July 2003), Kelly gave evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee. He told them that he liaised with Operation Rockingham within the Defence Intelligence Staff.


"Many dark actors playing games"

On the morning of 17 July 2003, Kelly was working as usual at home in Oxfordshire. Publicity given to his public appearance two days before had led many of his friends to send him supportive e-mails, to which he was responding. One of the e-mails he sent that day was to New York Times journalist Judith Miller, who had used Kelly as a source in a book on bioterrorism, to whom Kelly mentioned "many dark actors playing games." He also received an e-mail from his superiors at the Ministry of Defence asking for more details of his contact with journalists.

Daily walk and subsequent death

At about 15:00, Kelly told his wife that he was going for a walk, as he did every day. He appears to have gone directly to an area of woodlands known as Harrowdown Hill about a mile away from his home, where he allegedly ingested up to 29 tablets of painkillers (co-proxamol, an analgesic drug). He then allegedly cut his left wrist with a knife he had owned since his youth.


Kelly's wife reported him missing shortly after midnight that night, and he was found early the next morning. The government immediately announced that Lord Hutton would lead the judicial Hutton Inquiry into the events leading up to the death. The BBC shortly afterwards confirmed that Kelly had indeed been the single source for Andrew Gilligan's report.

The Hutton Inquiry reported on 28 January 2004 confirming that Kelly had committed suicide. Lord Hutton wrote:

I am satisfied that none of the persons whose decisions and actions I later describe ever contemplated that Kelly might take his own life. I am further satisfied that none of those persons was at fault in not contemplating that Kelly might take his own life. Whatever pressures and strains Kelly was subjected to by the decisions and actions taken in the weeks before his death, I am satisfied that no one realised or should have realised that those pressures and strains might drive him to take his own life or contribute to his decision to do so.

Hutton concluded, controversially, that the Ministry of Defence were obliged to make Kelly's identity known once he came forward as a potential source, and had not acted in a duplicitous manner. However, Hutton criticised the MoD for not alerting Kelly to the fact that his name had become known to the press.

Controversial issues

"I will probably be found dead in the woods"

During the Hutton inquiry, a British ambassador called David Broucher reported a conversation with Kelly at a Genevamarker meeting in February 2003. Broucher related that Kelly said he had assured his Iraqi sources that there would be no war if they co-operated, and that a war would put him in an "ambiguous" moral position. Broucher had asked Kelly what would happen if Iraq were invaded, and Kelly had replied, "I will probably be found dead in the woods." Broucher then quoted from an email he had sent just after Kelly's death: "I did not think much of this at the time, taking it to be a hint that the Iraqis might try to take revenge against him, something that did not seem at all fanciful then. I now see that he may have been thinking on rather different lines."

Fatality of ulnar artery cuts

Although suicide was officially accepted as the cause of death, some medical experts have raised doubts, suggesting that the evidence does not back this up. The most detailed objection was provided in a letter from three medical doctors published in The Guardian, reinforced by support from two other senior physicians in a later letter to the Guardian. These doctors argued that the autopsy finding of a transected ulnar artery could not have caused a degree of blood loss that would kill someone, particularly when outside in the cold (where vasoconstriction would slow blood loss). Further, this conflicted with the minimal amount of blood found at the scene. They also contended that the amount of co-proxamol found was only about a third of what would normally be fatal. Nor was he seen to have left the house with any bottled water or other liquid which would have been essential to assist in the consumption of the pills. Dr. Rouse, a British epidemiologist wrote to the British Medical Journal pointing out that the act of committing suicide by severing wrist arteries is an extremely rare occurrence in a 59-year-old man with no previous psychiatric history. Nobody else died from that cause during the year.

Little blood lost

Dave Bartlett and Vanessa Hunt, the two paramedics who were called to the scene of Kelly's death, have since gone public with their view that there was not enough blood at the location to justify the belief that he died from blood loss. Bartlett and Hunt told the Guardian that they saw a small amount of blood on plants near Kelly's body and a patch of blood the size of a coin on his trousers. They said they would expect to find several pints of blood at the scene of a suicide involving an arterial cut.

However, two of Britain's top forensic pathologists, Chris Milroy and Guy Rutty, dismissed the paramedics' claims, saying it is hard to judge blood loss from the scene of a death, as some blood may have seeped into the ground. Milroy also told the Guardian that Kelly's heart condition may have made it hard for him to sustain any significant degree of blood loss.

No fingerprints on knife

On 15 October 2007, it was discovered, through a Freedom of Information request, that the knife with which Kelly allegedly committed suicide had no fingerprints on it.

Lack of formal inquest

The Hutton Inquiry took priority over an inquest, which would normally be required into a suspicious death. The Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, considered the issue again in March 2004. After reviewing evidence that had not been presented to the Hutton Inquiry, Gardiner decided that there was no need for further investigation. This conclusion did not satisfy those who had raised doubts, but there has been no alternative official explanation for Kelly's death.


The BBC broadcast a programme on Kelly on 25 February 2007 as part of the series The Conspiracy Files; the network commissioned an opinion poll to establish the views of the public on his death. 22.7% of those surveyed thought Kelly had not killed himself, 38.8% of people believe he had, and 38.5% said they did not know.

Norman Baker book

On 19 May 2006 Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewesmarker, who had previously investigated the Hinduja affair, which led to the resignation of government minister Peter Mandelson, announced that he had been investigating "unanswered questions" from the official inquiry into Kelly's death. He later announced that he had uncovered evidence to show that Kelly did not die from natural causes. In July 2006, Baker claimed that his hard drive had been wiped remotely. Baker's book The Strange Death of David Kelly was serialised in the Daily Mail before publication in November 2007.

Family members of David Kelly expressed their displeasure at forthcoming publication, the husband of Kelly's sister Sarah saying, "It is just raking over old bones ... I can't speak for the whole family, but I've read it all [Baker's theories], every word, and I don't believe it."

In his book Baker argued that Kelly did not commit suicide and examined the many unanswered questions that surrounded the incident. Baker examined the evidence and uncovered omissions and inconsistencies that cast doubt on the Hutton inquiry's conclusions. While Baker hinted at a cover-up involving Thames Valley Police, who carried out the official investigation into Kelly’s death, he also provided what he considered a plausible explanation to treat Kelly's death as suicide.

In popular culture

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke's 2006 solo album The Eraser includes the track "Harrowdown Hill," named after the place where Kelly's body was found. Lyrics include "Don't ask me, ask the ministry" and "Did I fall or was I pushed? And where's the blood?", among others, clearly referencing the incident. Yorke has been quoted as saying it is the angriest song he has ever written.

Scottish singer Colin MacIntyre, who performs and records under the name Mull Historical Society, has also written a song about Kelly's apparent suicide entitled "Death of a Scientist (A Vision of Man Over Machine 2004)" on his 2004 album This is Hope.

Poet Simon Armitage's 2006 collection Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid opens with a poem entitled "Hand-Washing Technique - Government Guidelines", bearing the dedication i.m. Dr David Kelly. Most notably, as the poem progresses the description of the hand-washing technique becomes increasingly complex, a clear sense of pressure and tension mounting.

Novelist and former BBC Today Programme producer, Afshin Rattansi, who left Today amidst the Kelly Affair for Al Jazeera's "Top Secret" strand, wrote about UK broadcast journalism techniques in "The Dream of the Decade - The London Novels," published in 2006.

Canadian playwright Judith Thompson portrays David Kelly in her recent production Palace of the End. The play consists of three monologues, "My Pyramids" (a soldier modelled on Lynndie England), "Harrowdown Hill" (presented by Kelly), and "Instruments of Yearning" (based on Nehrjas Al Saffarh, an Iraqi mother living under Saddam Hussein's regime during the first Gulf War).

The plot of 2009 film, 'In the Loop' involves the 'sexing up' and selective editing of a dossier in support of a war in an unidentified country in the Middle East. Amidst the quick-fire comedy of the film's dialogue, writer Armando Iannucci emphasises the dark reality of the story as the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker threatens to hound the former minister, Simon Foster 'into an assisted suicide', clearly invoking the memory of David Kelly and demonstrating the violence inherent not only in war but also in modern political spin.


  • The Government Inspector (2005) Television film, Directed by Peter Kosminsky, coproduction : ARTE France, Channel 4, Mentorn.
  • Dead In The Woods (2007) [35801] Investigative documentary that explores the links between Kelly's death and a global bio-weapons conspiracy. Scheduled for international theatrical release and broadcast in 2008. Produced by Transformer Films [35802]
  • David Kelly: The Conspiracy Files (2007) BBC Documentary exploring the death of Dr. Kelly and the conspiracy surrounding it.


  1. "Profile: Dr David Kelly" BBC
  2. Telegraph: American-tells-of-her-friendship-with-Kelly.html American tells of her friendship with Kelly Retrieved June 26, 2009
  3. Mail Oinline: David Kelly's closest female confidante on why he COULDN'T have killed himself Retrieved June 26, 2009
  4. Kamal Ahmed, " Revealed: How Kelly article set out case for war in Iraq, Observer, 31 August 2002
  5. Iraqi mobile labs nothing to do with germ warfare, report finds | World news | The Observer
  6. Hutton Inquiry Web Site - Hearing Transcripts
  7. transcript
  8. Transcript questions 20 and 61
  9. The Daily Telegraph September 2, 2003. Retrieved October 12, 2007
  10. Transcript question 107
  11. Transcript question 167
  12. The Daily Telegraph September 2, 2003. Retrieved October 12, 2007
  13. Scotland on Sunday
  14. BBC NEWS | Politics | Kelly 'warned of dark actors' games'
  15. Email sent by Dr Kelly to Judith Miller on 17 July 2003
  16. Hutton Inquiry - Report by Lord Hutton
  17. Letters: Our doubts about Dr Kelly's suicide | From the Guardian | The Guardian
  18. Letters: Medical evidence does not support suicide by Kelly | Politics | The Guardian
  19. Rapid Responses for Milroy, 326 (7384) 294-295
  20. BBC NEWS | UK | Medics raise Kelly death doubts
  21. Kelly death paramedics query verdict | UK news | The Observer
  22. New Kelly claim splits medical opinion | Politics | The Guardian
  23. Fingerprint doubt over Kelly 'suicide' Mirror, 15 October 2007
  24. * New suspicion over Kelly death - MP Guardian Unlimited, October 15, 2007
  25. NDS - News Distribution Service
  26. "David Kelly: The Conspiracy Files" BBC, 7 December 2006
  27. "Doubts over Kelly death says poll", BBC News, 16 February 2007
  28. BBC NEWS | Politics | MP investigates Dr Kelly's death
  30. News
  31. Kelly family appeals for calm after new murder claims by MP
  32. Interview with Radiohead's Thom Yorke | OMM | The Observer
  33. Mise en page 1
  34. BBC NEWS | Programmes | Conspiracy Files | David Kelly: The Conspiracy Files

See also


External links



  • The Demon in The Freezer Article on the eradication and later illegal dissemination of the Smallpox virus that includes David Kelly's role in the investigation of the USSR treaty violations

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