London, July 19 (Reuters): Tony Blair’s government was reeling over the death of a mild-mannered scientist caught in a vitriolic row over allegations that London exaggerated the case for war in Iraq.
Police today said former UN weapons inspector David Kelly had bled to death from a cut wrist and gave details that left little doubt that it was suicide. “The post-mortem has revealed that the cause of death was haemorrhaging from a wound to his left wrist,” a spokesman said.
A knife and a box of the painkiller Coproxamol had been found close to where a body matching Kelly’s description was found yesterday in a wooded spot near his rural Oxfordshire home in central England, the police said.
On a tour of Asia, the Prime Minister appealed for “respect and restraint” as accusations flew over the cause of the tragedy. “I hope we can set aside the speculation and the claims and the counter-claims,” Blair said in Tokyo, asked if Kelly’s death was on his conscience.
“Have you got blood on your hands, Mr Prime Minister' Are you going to resign over this'” shouted a reporter. Blair responded with stony silence.
The bearded and bespectacled 59-year-old microbiologist, who worked for the defence ministry, disappeared on Thursday — apparently to take a walk from his family home. Two days before, Kelly had been grilled in Parliament over his possible role as a “mole” who had given the BBC a hotly-disputed story that Blair’s communications chief Alastair Campbell “sexed up” a dossier on Saddam Hussein’s arsenal.
The allegation that Campbell played up intelligence suggesting Saddam could mobilise weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes is at the centre of claims that Blair misled the public and Parliament over the case for war.
Kelly’s relatives were formally identifying the body as the police scoured the area for clues. The widespread assumption is that Kelly committed suicide. “I guess he couldn’t cope with the firestorm,” said journalist Tom Mangold, a close friend.
Opposition Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith called on Blair to cut short his trip to handle what is shaping into one of the biggest crises of his six-year rule. And an ex-minister from the ruling Labour Party, Glenda Jackson, called for his resignation: “Bullets should be bitten.”
Critics say Kelly was “sacrificed” to clear Blair and Campbell’s reputation by pressuring him to come forward in an effort to discredit the BBC report.
The media ripped into the government, accusing it of being so obsessed with public relations gloss that a man lost his life. “Spun to Death,” said the Daily Mirror. “Casualty of War,” was The Independent’s verdict.
“Yesterday a decent, shy civil servant who had been savagely chewed up and spat out by a malign, amoral Downing Street machine met a tormented and tragic end,” the Daily Mail wrote.
There was criticism for the BBC, too, which had refused to confirm whether or not Kelly was the “mole” for the 45-minute allegation, thus heightening the speculation around him.