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Body in Blair backyard

London, July 18: A senior ministry of defence official in London who was reprimanded by his employers for allegedly being the source of a controversial BBC report on weapons of mass destruction has been found dead after having apparently taken his own life.

The death of 59-year David Kelly, who was shown live on television a few days ago answering questions from the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, has stunned Britain.

Although formal identification is yet to be made, there was little doubt among observers that a body found lying face down in a wooded beauty spot five miles from his 18th century farmhouse in Oxfordshire is that of Kelly.

Kelly left his home for a walk at 3 pm yesterday and was reported missing to police by his wife when he had not returned by 11.45 pm. This morning, just after 9 am, Kelly’s body was found and now 50 policemen have been drafted into the investigation.

The government has come under sharp attack for naming Kelly as the source of a report on May 29 by Andrew Gilligan, the BBC’s defence correspondent, who said that an intelligence document was “sexed up” on the orders of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s director of communications, to strengthen the case for the war in Iraq.

The British Prime Minister, who was today on his way to Tokyo from Washington, where he had justified the war in an address to a joint of session of Congress, was informed of Kelly’s death.

Although conspiracy theories will abound about the nature of Kelly’s death, it is more than likely that he found the stress of dealing with recent events intolerable and took his own life.

The government has been involved in a vitriolic row with the BBC over whether the government falsified intelligence over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Kelly went to his bosses at the ministry of defence and owned up to meeting Gilligan. The secretary of defence, Geoff Hoon, then took the unusual step of publicly naming Kelly as the man who had briefed Gilligan.

It is still not clear, however, whether Kelly was the source for Gilligan’s report, which alleged that information supplied by the intelligence agencies had been embroidered to justify Blair’s decision to back President George W. Bush over the war. Blair had said Saddam Hussein was ready to launch his weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

The Commons foreign affairs select committee, which is examining whether Blair was right to launch military action, questioned Kelly live on television last week. At times, Kelly’s voice was so soft as to be barely audible.

Looking much older than his age, the white-bearded Kelly said he did not think he was Gilligan’s source. The contents of Gilligan’s report were so different from their own conversation that he did not think it was based on their chat.

In retrospect, the comments of Andrew Mackinlay, a Labour member of the committee, appear to have been prophetic. He asked Kelly whether he was “chaff”, thrown up by the ministry to divert attention.

“Have you ever felt like the fall guy'” asked Mackinlay. “You have been set up, haven’t you'” he said. To which, Kelly replied softly: “I accept the process that is happening.”

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