Tuesday 16 March 2004

Official Doubts in Kelly's Death?

This one just refuses to go away....

Oxfordshire Coroner Nicholas Gardiner has a problem. On March 16th he is holding a hearing to determine if he should resume the inquest into the death of microbiologist David Kelly that was cut short with the appointment of Lord Hutton to head an inquiry.

Earlier, Gardiner had been quoted as saying he had seen no “fresh” evidence that would warrant reopening the inquest. The hearing was expected to be a pro forma announcement of that decision. However, Tuesday evening Dr. Nicholas Hunt, the Home Office pathologist on whose testimony Lord Hutton relied for his suicide verdict, dropped a bombshell in Gardiner’s lap during a Channel 4 news program.

Alex Thomson was airing film clips of interviews with medical specialists who challenged the medical evidence provided by Hunt (and toxicologist Allan) and were calling for resumption of the inquest. Thomson also showed clips from supporters of Hutton’s verdict.

During Thomson’s how, Dr. Hunt called the newsroom and told them he would, “feel more comfortable with a full coroner’s inquest.” Dr. Hunt would obviously be one of the main witnesses in a resumed inquest and apparently has some information he feels he was not allowed to give at the inquiry.

While many have serious doubts about the suicide verdict by Lord Hutton in the death of microbiologist David Kelly, a close reading of the testimony of the two key forensic experts, on whose testimony Hutton based his verdict, reveals they also had doubts.

The questioning of the forensic witnesses was aimed at eliciting only that information that would support a suicide verdict. The “questioning was replete with leading questions (suggesting the answer) and at times statement of “fact” with which witnesses were asked to agree. Indeed, at times it was not clear who was giving testimony, the witnesses or Lord Hutton and his Queen’s counsels. Statements and answers by witnesses that begged for follow-up questions were ignored or the subject was quickly changed.

For most of his time in the witness stand, Dr. Nicholas Hunt, the Home Office pathologist who performed the autopsy on David Kelly’s body, dutifully supplied the expected answers with two notable exceptions.

Evidently witnesses had been directed to suspend common sense and logic and stay within their fields of expertise in their testimony. When Hunt and Alexander Allan, the toxicologist on the case, were asked at the end of their stints on the witness stand “is there anything else which you know of which might have contributed to the circumstances of Dr Kelly's death?” Allan answered, “From a toxicological point of view, no.” To the same question, Dr. Hunt replied, “Nothing I could say as a pathologist, no.” Clearly both were implying they had other information that was “outside their expertise.”

Mr. Allan had testified that the level of coproxamol components he found in Kelly’s blood was only about one third of what he would consider a fatal level. He also said it was not possible to determine how many of the 29 tablets not accounted for had been ingested by Kelly. However, he said, “What I can say is that it is consistent with say 29/30 tablets but it could be consistent with other scenarios as well. Of course he was not asked what other scenarios.

During his testimony, Dr. Hunt refused to bail Lord Hutton out of a dilemma he faced. The two volunteers who found the body had described it as, “head and shoulders against a tree” and “sitting up against a tree” respectively. Yet all subsequent witnesses saw the body as flat on its back away from the tree. In item 151 of his report, Hutton said he had seen a photograph of the body with its head against the tree but the rest of the body on the ground. He reasoned there was no conflict in the various testimonies.

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