ALISON BROINOWSKI. The pact of silence.

Feb 7, 2017

The death of Dr David Kelly in 2003 has not been explained to the satisfaction of everyone in Britain. Investigations suggest the Government of Tony Blair still has questions to answer.  

Fake facts are not new. Australians have been subjecting them to the ‘pub test’ for years. I don’t know if the British do the same, or if they even invented it. Certainly Tony Blair’s assertion on 24 September 2002 that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that were ‘deployable within 45 minutes of a decision to use them’ failed the pub test in both countries, even then. As the Chilcot Report (July 2016) confirms, those words were inserted in a ‘dodgy dossier’ of intelligence on Iraq a week before its publication.

If Dr David Kelly knew that, so did Andrew Gilligan, a BBC interviewer for the Today program who three months after the Iraq invasion had a conversation with Kelly. On 29 May 2003 he attributed to Kelly the headline-grabbing assertion that the dossier had been ‘sexed-up’ for desired political effect. In many pubs people saw the hands of Blair and Alistair Campbell, his press man, in that. Then on 17 July, two days after a grilling by ten members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament, David Kelly died. “Timeline: Dr David Kelly”The Guardian, 18 July 2003.

In July 2003, an inquest into Kelly’s death was opened and speedily adjourned. The Oxford Coroner said there was ‘no need for further investigation’, not even of evidence that a police hunt for Kelly had begun even before he had gone out walking or had been reported missing. Instead, Tony Blair commissioned a report from Lord Hutton who was a year short of retirement. (Hutton had represented the Ministry of Defence at the inquest into the killing of Irish civil rights marchers on “Bloody Sunday” and had publicly reprimanded Major O’Neil, the coroner, for accusing the British Army of murder. O’Neil was subsequently proved correct). Hutton found that Kelly had not said some of the things Gilligan had attributed to him, but predictably reported that Kelly had committed suicide. A letter to The Times signed by numerous medical authorities claimed it was impossible for Kelly to have died in the way described. Hutton had the medical evidence sealed for 70 years, by which time all those involved will be dead, saying he did so to spare Kelly’s family. But when the post-mortem report was made public in October 2010, it appeared to confirm suicide. Taylor, Matthew. David Kelly postmortem reveals injuries were self-inflictedThe Guardian, 22 October 2010.

Blair in 2011 urged his friend, News of the World ex-editor Rebekah Brooks, accused of hacking phones, to ‘publish a Hutton-style report’ that would clear her, which shows the sort of report the former PM had expected Hutton to deliver on Kelly.

I and others have been fixated for years on The Strange Death of Dr David Kelly, as it was called in the 2007 book by Norman Baker, a Lib-Dem. member for Lewes until 2003. Baker made a political career out of muck-racking, including exposing rorts of parliamentary expenses. An experienced columnist Matthew Parris said of Baker in 2001, ‘You underestimate him at your peril. He has a habit of being right.’ Resigning to investigate the Kelly case, Baker raked through the murky options: suicide? (improbable) accident? (not possible) or murder. He told the BBC in May 2006 ‘It struck me as extremely odd at the time that Dr Kelly was thought to have committed suicide in the way he did, at the time he did.’

If it was murder, who did it?  But we still don’t know for certain.

First then, who was David Kelly? An authority on chemical and biological warfare, he had been an inspector for the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq and had travelled there several times, before becoming a special adviser to the UK Ministry of Defence on counter-proliferation and arms control. He claimed no specialisation in nuclear weapons. He lived near Oxford with his wife, and they had adult children. Under interrogation by the Foreign Affairs Committee, Kelly comes across as technically expert, careful with scientific statements, perhaps politically naive, and out of his comfort zone in the glare of media and official attention. He tries to dodge the Committee’s barbs, but realising they have him cornered, becomes erratic in his answers. He doesn’t ask his interrogators why they seem more concerned about the reputation of the Government than the threat of WMD – which by then had already been shown to be false. He doesn’t say, ‘Yes, Gilligan and I talked about the dossier, and I said the 45-minute WMD attack made no sense and was not in the draft document I saw. Which is worse, me telling the truth to a journalist, or the Government telling lies to the public?’

Easy enough to be wise so long after the event. In Wilbur Smith’s interrogation in 1984, and Josef K’s in The Trial, neither knows what they are accused of. All the authorities want is their admission of guilt, and the Foreign Affairs Committee dealt with Kelly in similar fashion. They got results: as well as Gilligan, the Chairman and Director-General of the BBC resigned, and Kelly died. None of the committee members, in spite of Chilcot’s revelations in 2016, has been charged with anything. Nor have Campbell, Scarlett, Dearlove, or anyone else from Blair’s inner circle. The Kelly case has been consigned to the skip bin of too-hard crimes, where successive British governments must hope it will remain; where US governments have put the unsatisfactorily resolved murders of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and those who died on 9/11; and where, for that matter, Australian governments have deposited the deaths of three men in the Hilton bombing of 13 February 1978. A pact of deniability and silence binds those who know the contents of the bin, until they also die.

A British woman who broke the pact is Annie Machon, who worked for MI5 from 1991 to 1996 when she and her partner, a fellow employee, revealed what was already familiar to Australian observers of ASIO: that MI5 held secret files on the very government ministers who were responsible for overseeing the intelligence services; that the agency made illegal phone taps, even before the News of the World scandal revealed the media doing the same; and that MI5 lied to the government. Machon, who fled to Europe after blowing the whistle, also said MI5 had known about IRA bomb plots and could have prevented them. She claimed that when the Israeli embassy in London was bombed in 1994, two innocent people were wrongfully convicted; and that the Secret Intelligence Service (among others) had tried to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. The UK presumably wanted vengeance: in the 1980s, a British policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, had been shot outside the Libyan embassy in London, and Gaddafi was thought to have ordered the air disaster at Lockerbie.

The greatest threat to those who know what’s in the skip bin is the whistleblower with a grievance. Such a man is Dr Stephen Frost, a civilian doctor in the British Army, who in September 2013 was dismissed while on holiday and without explanation by an email and text from the Ministry of Defence. He had called for a police investigation of how morphine sulphate painkillers appeared to have gone missing from the pharmacy at an Army base, and were prescribed at much higher levels than necessary. But he also had what British law enforcement would call ‘form’, having campaigned for years for a full investigation into Kelly’s death. In January 2017 Frost faced an employment tribunal in Manchester, appearing unintimidated. If its finding later this year favours him, Frost can expect significant compensation, as well as encouragement to resume his efforts on the Kelly case. All it takes then is for him to find someone whose conscience overpowers the pact of silence.

Dr Alison Broinowski, a former Australian diplomat, is Vice-President of Australians for War Powers Reform, Vice-President of Honest History, and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.  

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