- Created: Friday, 25 September 2009 15:48
- Written by Carol Brickley
FRFI 175 October / November 2003
The death of Dr David Kelly
‘The dogs have barked... the caravan moves on’
After six weeks of evidence, the publication of more than 900 documents and several millions of pounds spent on fees and expenses, all we can say of the Hutton Inquiry so far is that nothing adds up. Everyone, with the probable exception of the dead scientist’s widow and family, has been ‘spinning’ – ‘spinning’ is the spin-word for lying. The inquiry into the circumstances of Kelly’s death is now over and Hutton has retired to write his report. No one will be shocked by its recommendations when it finally appears in a few weeks time.
It is blatantly obvious why Dr David Kelly died. He made the mistake of talking to the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan about his criticisms of the government’s September dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He compounded his mistake by owning up and then lying about it. His employers, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the government and Gilligan all added to the pressure. A number of questions, however, do require answers, but the Hutton report is unlikely to provide them.
Throughout the inquiry the government did its best to belittle Dr Kelly and his work. According to Jonathan Sumption QC, appearing for the government, Kelly was ‘simply one of many people who were in a position to comment [on the September dossier].’ At other times he was described as a ‘middle-ranking official’, a ‘Walter Mitty character’. According the MoD, Kelly was ‘the author of his own misfortune’, ‘self-contained’, ‘difficult to help’. Yet the death of this oh-so unimportant official necessitated a full-scale judicial inquiry! And if the MoD’s support for Kelly was as ‘outstanding’ as they claimed, why did Kelly kill himself?
In fact, Kelly was a world-renowned expert on biological weapons of mass destruction. He had visited Iraq 37 times as a senior UN inspector. His area of expertise was precisely that covered by the government’s infamous September dossier. If Kelly was doubtful about the dossier’s use of ‘intelligence’, and in particular the claim that the Iraqi regime could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, then this was serious criticism and should have been treated as such. Instead the government has gone to great lengths to undermine Kelly and his reputation.
Much of the background to the writing of the September dossier is shrouded in mist and e-mails. The process began on 3 September 2002 when the government announced that it would be publishing a new version of an old dossier on Iraq which had appeared in March 2002. In the course of the next three weeks, ‘someone’ wanted the text to be ‘as strong as possible’, the language to be ‘tougher’. ‘Our aim should be to convey the impression that things have not been static in Iraq, but that over the past decade he [Saddam Hussein] has been aggressively and relentlessly pursuing WMD.’ (e-mail from Daniel Pruce of Number 10 press office to Alastair Campbell). Despite this, both John Scarlett of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and the MoD have claimed that the dossier was purely an intelligence product. The government has also stated that the dossier was not intended to argue for war on Iraq. This must be a lie. Such a concern for strong language could not have been simply to educate the public. As part of its argument for war, the dubious 45-minute claim was highlighted.
Ownership of the September dossier is being handed round like a hot potato. No government minister, not Geoff Hoon (MoD), nor Jack Straw (Foreign Office), will admit to having any influence on the dossier’s production whatsoever. This oh-so-unimportant dossier, produced by no-one in particular for no particular purpose, just happened to be one of two dossiers – both dodgy – produced by this government in the run-up to war on Iraq. But in the published (by Hutton) record of a meeting about the dossier held on 18 September, two days before publication, ownership is very clearly stated to lie, not with Scarlett and the JIC, but with Number 10. The simple truth is that the aim of the dossier was to show Parliament and the public that Saddam Hussein represented a ‘clear and current’ threat.
Why was the government so affronted by Gilligan’s report on the Today programme on 29 May? It was not the first time the government had been criticised, but it seemed like the last straw. Hostilities between the press (in particular the BBC) and the Labour government had been a running sore since the early weeks of the war on Iraq when Cabinet Minister John Reid accused the BBC of acting like a ‘friend of Baghdad’. There was, Number 10 whined, no moral equivalence between Britain, the USA, and the Iraqi regime. Jack Straw claimed that ‘24-hour news actually changes the reality of warfare’. For its part, the BBC pointed out that the Coalition had, for instance, claimed the fall of Um Qasr on nine occasions before it actually happened. By 29 May, almost a month after Bush had declared the ‘end’ of the war, Blair’s government was hyper-sensitive to accusations that no weapons of mass destruction had been found and evidence that its ‘intelligence’ was ill-founded. Summing up at the Hutton Inquiry, the government’s barrister argued that the government had to take Gilligan’s report seriously: ‘It seems to have been thought that the BBC could shoot off its fireworks and then steal away. The dogs would bark, the caravan would move on’. In truth, Gilligan’s report was too close to the truth.
Kelly’s confession that he was Gilligan’s source was a godsend for the government: it could blame either Gilligan or Kelly. It is clear from the e-mails and from Campbell’s diary that there was a conspiracy to expose Kelly’s name to the press. Both Campbell and Hoon were gagging to do it because it would ‘fuck Gilligan’. The Kelly family lawyer, Jeremy Gompertz QC, summed it up for the Hutton Inquiry: Hoon was a liar and a hypocrite. They didn’t need to say anything about Campbell: he was exposed simply as a lout.
As predicted in our last issue, Campbell has fallen on his sword, and Hoon has been groomed for the chop. The government is prepared to blame everyone but itself for what happened, even Dr Kelly’s mother.
The dogs have barked and the caravan may have moved on... but the Labour government’s problems are unlikely to go away. The Hutton Inquiry may have been a diversion, but there are still no weapons of mass destruction, and the Coalition’s own inspectors, the Iraq Survey Group, are about to publish their report confirming this. 1,200 scientists and soldiers can’t find anything. Both Bush and Blair are sinking in the opinion polls. Worse still, Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, is writing a book...