I watched David Kelly’s evidence to the Parliamentary Committee

August 14, 2010

My recollection is that Dr David Kelly was under extreme stress while giving his evidence the the Parliamentary committee. I also recall on learning of his death that I was not surprised that the circumstances at the time pointed to suicide

Time plays funny tricks on memory. My current recall may be more based on TV replays of snippets of the original broadcast I had seen. I later became interested in the accounts of the ‘sexing-up’ of the ‘dodgy dossier’ and the unprofessional standards of journalism at the time which led to severe criticism of the BBC’s reporting and of their reporter Andrew Gilligan at the time.

My recollections were further refreshed by the Economist account this week as the story re-opened. That summary fits the standard narrative:

David Kelly was ..one of the world’s foremost experts on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He advised the British government on the matter, particularly in connection with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He was also one of the main sources for a claim by Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC reporter, that Tony Blair’s government had rewritten publicly-released intelligence to make it “sexier”, in the hope of justifying the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. After Gilligan made his claim, Kelly was quickly identified as the source of the leak. A few days after a stressful appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating Mr Gilligan’s allegations, he was found dead in the woods near his Oxfordshire home. The official account (given in the Hutton Report) was of suicide. Dr Kelly had cut one of his wrists and swallowed over two dozen painkillers.

The current renewal of interest [August 2010] follows a letter published in the Times by a group including medical experts calling for a further enquiry, and picked up widely in the media including including a report in The Daily Mail.
Conspiracies about conspiracy theories

So-called conspiracy theories make good study material for students to practice their own powers of analysis. I have become fond of the idea of ‘map-reading’ (the material) ‘map-testing’ (exploring the merits of the material) and ‘map-making’ (deciding for yourself how you chose to make sense of the story). With experience the map-tester looks for the evidence of motives behind the text. John Rentoul in The Independent, and The Economist, for example, suspect ‘The Murdoch Press’ of the temptation to ‘sex up’ what may be a ‘dodgy story’ (Heaven Forbid).

My own map-testing alerts me to the possibility that any report using the term conspiracy theory is also throwing doubt on the maps of other people… The Mail, and The Times stand accused of supporting a conspiracy theory that Dr Kelly was murdered, probably by agents of the State. Both John Rentoul, and the Economist’s blogger (‘Blighty’) find it difficult to account for the resurgence of the story on rational grounds. They point to the lack of plausibility of alternatives to the official line on Dr Kelly’s sad death. I find their arguments persuasive. However, conspiracy theories have a strength which goes beyond the rational. They can call fourth the response “You can’t be sure…” And we find ourselves engulfed in the complexities of conspiracies about conspiracies.

How reliable are the maps?

I’d rather any reader of my personal reflections to reach a personal conclusion. In a fast-breaking episode within a longer historical story it is difficult but probably advisable to draw provisional conclusions. I’m not sure that anything I write will change the views held by those who seem to have reached a state of total conviction about the affair.