Out of Kelly tragedy must come the truth - article

28/07/2003

The tragic and untimely death of the respected scientist and weapons inspector Dr David Kelly a fortnight ago came as a profound shock to everyone involved in Westminster politics. I know some will say that many people, including innocent Iraqi civilians, have already died because of the war in Iraq and that more are dying every day. But Dr Kelly’s death would have at least been explicable if he had died in Iraq doing the job he loved most, heading a United Nations weapons inspection team. Instead his terrible death is, as yet, inexplicable. Appallingly, he appears to be more a victim of our political and media culture rather than a victim of the war.

I am a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee which met with Dr Kelly just two days before he died. Everyone associated with that committee, the MPs, the clerks, advisers and secretaries, everyone, feels a profound sense of grief at his death. And everyone has to look at their conscience and take their share of responsibility. Incidentally, the brief clips that have been shown on television bore little relation to the rest of the proceedings. One MP is shown asking rather aggressive and pompous questions, but in fact a glance at the Hansard shows that his anger was directed, not at Dr Kelly, but actually at the Ministry of Defence which he thought had set Dr Kelly up as a scapegoat. This doesn’t excuse that MP’s aggressive behaviour but it does shed a different light on it. The meeting lasted nearly an hour and, overwhelmingly, the tone was polite. It was the hottest day of the year and, as Dr Kelly was quietly spoken, the noisy air conditioning was switched off making everyone uncomfortably hot. But, as I say, the questioning was rigorous but polite apart from the now famous clip.

I have read that transcript over and over again, especially my own questions to Dr Kelly. I was trying to find out if he was the BBC’s secret source of information. From the answers he gave me I’m sure that everyone on the committee felt that he wasn’t – the answers he gave were wildly different from what the BBC said their source had told them. We found out three days later from the BBC that he was their source. It’s worth remembering here what the BBC had claimed: that their source (posthumously acknowledged to be Dr Kelly) had told them that Alastair Campbell had exaggerated (“sexed up” is the BBC’s phrase) the threat posed by Iraq in order to persuade reluctant MPs to vote for an unpopular war. It is the gravest of charges and one for which I have yet to see any evidence. It was this I was trying to get to the bottom of. I have tried, with hindsight, to work out if I should have asked different questions. I don’t know, and all I do know is that I shall have to live with the questions that I did ask. I hope I didn’t let you down. I have had a small amount of hate mail, none of it from people in Hyndburn. In fact, I’ve had nothing but kindness from people here. It is incredibly humbling and to everyone who has taken to trouble to be nice at a difficult time I want to say thank you.

Finally, out of this tragedy, Dr Kelly’s memory deserves the truth. Were we lied to? Did Mr Campbell alter the September Dossier? Was the war justified on the basis of the intelligence available at the time? How accurate was the intelligence? I hope that the Hutton Inquiry finds answers to these questions. And I hope that the BBC can soon return to reporting the news accurately and fairly, rather making the news.

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