KELLY COULDN'T HAVE DIED FROM WOUND09:00 - 14 February 2004
The German word for suicide is more direct than the English: Selbstmord - self-murder. Did Dr David Kelly - husband, father of three daughters and a leading world expert in chemical and germ warfare - murder himself, or was he murdered by others?
When his violent death was first reported I felt he was probably a victim of a wicked system that had used him and spat him out. I was very sceptical that he could have bled to death from one cut wrist.
At first, the media spoke of "alleged suicide", but by last November I became aware that reporters were speaking of Dr Kelly's "suicide" without qualification. Objecting to this, on December 15 I wrote a letter to the Morning Star - key extracts follow:
"I write to enquire as to the status of the Coroner's inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly. I hope that it has not been subsumed within the Hutton inquiry.
"He had been put through the psychological mincing machine??? and it is easy to imagine his sense of failure as well as betrayal in both directions. We have been told that he died from a cut wrist and that he had non-lethal levels of an analgesic in his blood.
"As a past trauma and orthopaedic surgeon I cannot easily accept that even the deepest cut into one wrist would cause such exsanguination that death resulted. The two arteries are of matchstick size and would have quickly shut down and clotted. Furthermore we have a man who was expert in lethal substances and who apparently chose a most uncertain method of suicide."
I then joined a group of two doctors and two lay people who had studied Dr Kelly's death from the start. One doctor is a retired anaesthesiologist of some academic distinction - Dr Searle Sennett FFARCS; the other, Dr Stephen Frost MB ChB BSc, is a diagnostic radiologist. Rowena Thursby has acted as writer, editor and liaison officer and Garrett Cooke is a computer consultant. None of us has met, but we have spoken on the phone and exchanged dozens of e-mails. All letters/publications have been the result of meticulous study. Martin Birnstingl MS FRCS, retired vascular surgeon, Dr Andrew Rouse, consultant in public health, and Dr Peter Fletcher, pathologist, recently joined us.
The group has most recently expressed its doubt about Dr Kelly's "suicide" in the Guardian. Other articles appeared last month in the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. On January 21 we sent an 11-page letter to coroner Nicholas Gardiner. Here we set out the medical/scientific reasons why we could not accept a suicide verdict without a proper inquest, where witnesses can be subpoenaed and evidence given on oath before a jury.
Our main point was that the clean division of one small artery in this man's left wrist (the ulnar artery) could not have caused such bleeding that death resulted. An adult needs to lose about five pints of blood to die. This little artery would have drawn back from the wound, constricted and then clotted off. To lose even a pint of blood in this way would have been unlikely. Very disturbing inconsistencies in the evidence regarding how the corpse was positioned and who was present at the death scene were also highlighted for the coroner in our letter.
Lord Hutton reported two weeks ago and his verdict was (predictably, in view of the unchallenged pathology and toxicology reports) - suicide. His reasoning:
1. Bleeding from multiple small cuts or scratches to the left wrist. To this I say that the multiplicity has no bearing; only one small artery was divided.
2. Overdose of co-proxamol. But I note that the toxicologist found that the levels of paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene were a third or less than the levels he knew to be toxic.
3. "Silent coronary disease". However, Dr Kelly is bound to have had such disease, in common with all men of the same age. No evidence was produced by the pathologist, Dr Nicholas Hunt, that he had suffered a "coronary". Lord Hutton might as well have included the presence of the common cold and an ingrowing toenail as further contributors to death.
Dr David Kelly was treated shamefully by some of those in or on the fringes of government. The least that should happen for this man and his family is for the inquest to be reopened, a jury called, and the most rigorous cross-examination then to be carried out.
David Halpin MB BS FRCS is formerly senior surgeon in orthopaedic and trauma surgery at Torbay Hospital and Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital, Exeter.
Please address any comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org or rowenathursby@ onetel.net.uk