London, Sept. 2 (Reuters): A British arms expert whose death has plunged Tony Blair’s government into crisis was probably driven to suicide by public exposure and feelings his superiors had lost faith in him, a judicial inquiry heard today.
Psychiatric expert Keith Hawton told the inquiry into the death of David Kelly, an expert on Iraqi weapons, that the scientist could have taken his ordeal as a form of public disgrace, leading to a sense of profound hopelessness. Kelly, who worked for the ministry of defence, killed himself in July after being exposed as the source for a BBC report that said the government exaggerated the case for invading Iraq.
Earlier today, Kelly’s doctor said the scientist had never shown signs of depression and a government health check less than two weeks before his death found nothing worrying — suggesting his harrowing final days had a crucial bearing. The Blair government’s public trust ratings have withered over Kelly’s treatment and the failure to find banned weapons in Iraq — the main reason the prime minister gave to justify a war that most Britons opposed.
Blair’s team has battled to make the BBC, Britain’s public broadcaster, back off its report. Critics say the mild-mannered weapons expert, 59, became a political football in the process. “I think... the major factor was the severe loss of self esteem resulting from his feeling that people had lost trust in him and his dismay at being exposed to the media,” Hawton said. “In a sense, I think he would have seen it as being publicly disgraced.”
Hawton dismissed conspiracy theories that Kelly may not have died by his own hand, saying the wounds on his body, the absence of signs of struggle and the fact he had taken a potentially dangerous drug, Coproxamol, all strongly pointed to suicide.
Louise Holmes, a civilian who helped search for the missing Kelly on July 18, told the inquiry under judge Lord Hutton how her dog found his body underneath a tree in a copse. “He was at the base of the tree with his head and shoulders just slumped back against the tree,” she said. “His left arm had a lot of blood on it and was bent back in a funny position.” Andrew Franklin, a police officer called to the scene, said there was more blood around the body. “There was no sign of an obvious struggle,” he said. Kelly killed himself after being publicly named and made to testify to a parliamentary committee. He had also received two grillings by his government employers about his contacts with a BBC reporter.
His family doctor of 25 years, Malcolm Warner, said Kelly had never shown symptoms of depression and a Ministry of Defence health check on July 8 had thrown up nothing significant.
Hawton concluded Kelly decided to take his life at a very late stage.
”It is likely that he would have begun to perceive...that the difficulties for him were escalating,” Hawton said.“One might conjecture that he began to fear that he would lose his job altogether.”
On Monday, Kelly's widow Janice told the inquiry her husband felt betrayed by the Ministry of Defence in the weeks before his death.
She said Kelly had been assured by senior ministry officials that his name would not be made public. Days later, however, the ministry press office confirmed his name to journalists.
British media have suggested Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon could lose his job over the affair, although he has said he had little or nothing to do with Kelly's handling.