Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"The Strange Death of David Kelly" by Norman Baker

Book review

You'd be hard pressed to find a single person in Britain unable to associate ten years of Blair and New Labour with the words "spin", "deceit" and Alistair Campbell.

But whatever your views on Iraq, their lowest point was undoubtedly the absolute mess of "dodgy dossiers", lies and apocalyptic 45-minute claims. That included the Government bullying the BBC for shedding light over the doctoring of intelligence documents and, most shockingly, the death of weapons inspector David Kelly, the BBC source as whistleblower of Britain's faltering justification into the Iraq war. His body was found in the Oxfordshire woods in July 2003. For Blair, it all went downhill from there. And yet no serious analysis of the fact ever took place.

Norman Baker, MP for Lewes in Sussex, tries to redress the balance. His book The Strange Death of David Kelly has been nominated for the Channel 4 Political Book Award 2008. For one thing, it is infinitely more analytical than the hurried statutory inquiry set up by Tony Blair hours after Dr Kelly's demise.

In fact, as you read, you learn that -quirk no.1- a statutory inquiry (such as the one led by Lord Hutton) has no tribunal powers. Less, in fact, than an ordinary coroner's inquest. For instance, they have no authority over witnesses, no warrant to call for new evidence as well as no power to sanction perjury. You won't hear that from the newspapers. And yet, it's only one of the mysteries that surround the case.

Lord Hutton's official verdict was suicide, coupled with ample bollocking of those at the BBC who dared question the accuracy of the Government claims behind the invasion of Iraq. Thought it was common knowledge that intelligence material had been disgracefully 'sexed up', it didn’t matter. The BBC was forced to apologise and its director general to resign.

Meanwhile, Dr David Kelly was alleged to have taken 29 Coproxamol tablets and slashed a small artery in his wrist. But -quirk no.2- only less than the content of one Coproxamol tablet was found inside Dr Kelly's body. Lord Hutton didn’t deem it worthy of a more thorough investigation.

More, a group of respected vascular experts queried Lord Hutton's conclusion protesting that the chances of dying of haemorrhage from severing the artery Dr Kelly was alleged to have slashed are close to nil.

And - quirk no.4 - in spite his alleged lethal haemorrhage, hardly any blood was found on David Kelly's clothes or sprayed around. Put simply, there isn’t enough space here to sum up the huge list of inconsistencies published in the Hutton whitewash. And yet, it's just unbelievable. There's the last person to have seen Dr Kelly who claims he wasn’t wearing a coat (it was July, remember). Yet one was found on his corpse.

There's the unexplained fact of the police support operation, codenamed Mason, starting nine hours before Dr Kelly was reported missing. Unorthodoxly, the police focused on searching Dr Kelly's house as soon as they turned up, requesting that Mrs Kelly wait outside. Besides, there's Dr Kelly's past involvement with highly secret Ministry of Defence-sanctioned projects. If he could speak to the BBC about the Government lies in their case for war, what else might he spill?

There's his cryptic words to a colleague just before the Iraq war: "if Iraq is invaded I'll be found dead in the woods". There are Dr Kelly's work-related emails sent on the day he disappeared which suggest a perfectly stable and forward-looking state of mind. There's the plane tickets he booked. Last but not least, the disturbing number of incidents that surrounded Norman Baker's sources as he was collecting his evidence.

As it's very easy to shrug off the fragmented evidence and list of contradictions as conspiracy theory, Norman Baker centres his research on meticulous investigation and forensic research rather than plain hearsay. The book is more a dissection of all possible options rather than pre-conceived theory.

So I guess the best endorsement to the book comes from the stick Norman Baker took from the usual suspects. In The Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor talks about "plenty of evidence supporting the conclusion that he was driven to suicide" but he doesn’t say what the evidence is.

But, best of all, there's The Times' David Aaronovitch. Now, seriously, there's a better chance of Blair disagreeing with himself than that of Mr Aaronovitch disagreeing with Blair. In 10 years, the independent-minded columnist has not written one - read 1- article even remotely critical of any action taken by Messiah Tony.

Instead of debating the facts, in classic Pravda-style, Aaronovitch proceeds with his character assassination of Norman Baker and his current role in the Liberal Democrats. Then there's this one: "Since the fearless Mr Baker believes it is impossible to die in the way Dr Kelly is supposed to have done, then it should be able to meet the simple challenge of himself taking 29 Coproxamol tablets and then slitting his own left ulnar artery". Not impossible, if all the tablets you swallow amount to less than one.

But one can excuse Aaronovitch for being obviously too busy with his own independent thinking to check all the facts. And actually read the book.


Johnny Taronja said...

Aaronovitch, what a chap. I reckon it's Blair using a pseudonym ;-)

William Shepherd said...

On David Kelly & Hutton Inquiry

On Assassination & Conspiracy

On Government Media

Anonymous said...

Seize the Day's 20-minute story...sung to the tune of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant...about the time they almost won the World Music Award on BBC Radio 3 has been moved to