- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

From combined dispatches

LONGWORTH, England — A British scientist was found dead in the woods yesterday after being unwittingly dragged into a fierce political dispute about intelligence used to justify war on Iraq.

British police said they had found a body believed to be that of soft-spoken Defense Ministry biologist David Kelly, a former U.N. weapons inspector who had been questioned in Parliament about charges that the government inflated intelligence data to justify war.

The political fallout was immediate. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who learned about the discovery of the body while flying from Washington to Tokyo, promised an independent judicial inquiry into the death if the body was confirmed to be Mr. Kelly’s.

“The government would cooperate fully and [the probe judge] would have access to any papers that he wants and to any people he wishes to speak to,” Mr. Blair’s spokesman said.

But opponents called for Mr. Blair to return and face a broader probe into the case he made for war. The shock even sent Britain’s pound down half a percent on currency markets as traders weighed the severity of the crisis for Mr. Blair.

British newspapers said today Mr. Blair faced a major crisis over the death of the defense adviser.

Several papers attacked the government, accusing it of turning the microbiologist-weapons expert into a “fall guy.”

“Death of the dossier fall guy” was the page-one headline of the conservative Daily Telegraph, which said Mr. Blair had been plunged into the biggest crisis of his prime ministry.

In an editorial it called on Alastair Campbell, the government’s director of communications and a key Blair aide, to quit.

The right-wing Daily Mail attacked the government over the way it had treated Mr. Kelly. On its front page, it ran pictures of Mr. Blair, Mr. Campbell and Defense Secretary Geoffery Hoon, under a headline: “Proud of yourselves?”

The left-wing Daily Mirror tabloid said in an editorial that Mr. Kelly had been “hounded to death by the government,” adding: “Powerful men lined up to scapegoat Dr. Kelly as part of their no-holds-barred campaign to clear the government of charges of faking dossiers before the Iraq war.”

A headline in the Daily Express read simply: “Thrown to the wolves.”

The left-wing Guardian estimated that the political fallout from the death of Mr. Kelly “may well prove incalculable.”

Mr. Kelly’s family reported him missing overnight after he went for a walk in the Oxfordshire countryside Thursday with no coat and stayed out despite a rainstorm.

The body, found by police in a wooded area about five miles from Mr. Kelly’s home, is to be identified today, said acting Superintendent David Purnell of Thames Valley Police. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Mr. Kelly, 59, had denied being the source for British Broadcasting Corp. radio reporter Andrew Gilligan, who said in May a senior intelligence source had told him the government had “sexed up” intelligence on Iraq. The BBC report said Blair aides gave undue prominence to a claim that Iraq could launch chemical or biological weapons on 45 minutes’ notice.

Mr. Gilligan subsequently said his source accused Mr. Campbell of insisting on including the 45-minute claim. A parliamentary probe cleared Mr. Campbell of that charge.

Mr. Kelly had clearly been reluctant to enter the public debate over Iraq intelligence.

Speaking so softly he could barely be heard, he admitted to Parliament’s foreign affairs committee he had met Mr. Gilligan, but denied telling him that Mr. Campbell had ordered intelligence to be inflated.

Mr. Kelly appeared shell-shocked when parliamentarians at the hearing described him as “chaff” and a government “fall guy” put forward to shield top officials from blame.

Mr. Kelly’s wife, Jane, described him as deeply upset, family friend Tom Mangold, a television journalist, told ITV News.

“She told me he had been under considerable stress, that he was very, very angry about what had happened at the committee, that he wasn’t well,” Mr. Mangold said.

The government said that if Mr. Kelly was Mr. Gilligan’s source, their differing accounts proved the BBC story was wrong. Mr. Gilligan, who never named his source, was questioned at a closed-door hearing around the time Mr. Kelly vanished Thursday.

The Defense Ministry said yesterday that Mr. Kelly was told he had violated civil service rules by having unauthorized contact with a journalist, but “that was the end of it.” It said he was not threatened with suspension or dismissal.

News of Mr. Kelly’s death completely overshadowed Mr. Blair’s rapturous reception by the U.S. Congress on Thursday.

“The prime minister is obviously very distressed for the family of Doctor Kelly,” a spokesman said aboard the flight to Asia.

Opposition Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said Mr. Blair should return from abroad and any inquiry should cover the entire issue of intelligence used to justify the war.

“If I was the prime minister, I would cut short this visit and return home. There are very many questions that will need to be asked over the coming days,” he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide