| British scientist David Kelly’s wife Janice and one of their daughters at their home in Southmoor village, Oxfordshire. (AFP)
Longworth (England), July 19: David Kelly, the British scientist found dead after being dragged into a bitter political dispute about the Iraq war, was a private man who kept to himself, according to villagers who knew him.
“He was the archetypal, quiet, considerate English gentleman,” said Paul Daley, owner of the Blue Boar pub in this quaint Oxfordshire village, close to where the body matching Kelly’s description was found yesterday. “We used to go out riding together, and occasionally he’d stop off for a pint in the pub. His death is a sad loss to the whole community.”
Kelly, a soft-spoken defence ministry biologist and former UN weapons inspector, left his home in the nearby village of Southmoor on Thursday afternoon, telling his family he was taking a walk in the rolling Oxfordshire countryside.
When he failed to return by midnight, his family raised the alarm. Police found a body matching Kelly’s description in woodland yesterday morning. It was not known if Kelly had left a note indicating his intentions.
In a statement issued today, Kelly’s family said that his life was “intolerable” in the last weeks of his life because of the furore over the Iraq dossier.
His wife, Janice, and daughters Sian, 32, and twins, Rachel and Ellen, 30, said they are “utterly devastated” by his death and praised his “integrity, honour and dedication”.
Just four days earlier Kelly had been grilled in parliament over accusations he was the key intelligence source behind a BBC report in May which claimed the government had “sexed up” a dossier on Iraq in order to justify its case for war.
Kelly had appeared intimidated during his parliamentary cross-examination and had clearly been reluctant to enter the public debate over Iraq.
Speaking so softly he could barely be heard, he admitted to parliament’s foreign affairs committee he had met BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan, but denied telling him that Blair’s communications chief Alastair Campbell had ordered intelligence to be hyped.
One of the parliamentarians at the hearing described him as “chaff” and a government “fall guy”. In Longworth they remember him differently.
“I knew him from playing bridge together,” said 63-year-old Pete Richings as stood at the bar in the thatched-roofed Blue Boar. “He was very placid, very friendly — a reserved, likeable chap.”
Longworth and Southmoor were swamped by reporters and cameramen following the police announcement that a body matching that of Kelly had been found. Kelly and his wife Janice were well known in the Oxfordshire villages.
They were members of a local historical society and she teaches geography to teenagers in the area.
“I was really distressed to hear the news,” Daley said. “I’ve known him for around 25 years.
“He was such a modest man. There were so many things about him we didn’t know. For example, I only found out today that he was a leading microbiologist — an expert in his field. It’s not the sort of thing he talked about. “I watched him in the parliamentary session this week and he got a real grilling,” Daley added. “I just hope to God that wasn’t a contributing factor in his death.”
Police have said they were not treating his death as suspicious and that the cause of death would not be confirmed until a post-mortem had been carried out. Kelly was said to be a practising member of the Baha’i faith and a former treasurer of the Oxfordshire Spiritual Assembly. A friend, who declined to be named, said: “Dr Kelly was an honest, decent man who appeared to be able to cope with stress. “He was a great believer in humanity and bringing an end to prejudices.”