An Inconvenient Death

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The US and British invasion of Iraq in March 2003 killed millions and entrenched a cycle of violence and Islamophobia which continues to shape events.

The war was justified by Iraq’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” though none were ever found. Two million marched in London in protest in February 2003.

The death of UK weapons inspector David Kelly soon after the invasion caused a media frenzy but appears merely as a footnote to the war today. Yet Miles Goslett’s book, An Inconvenient Death, poses uncomfortable questions of the British establishment, Tony Blair and his spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

Kelly was found dead after being outed as the “intelligence” source for a BBC expose of the government’s claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and nuclear weapons in 45 minutes.

BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan interviewed Kelly in May 2003, asking why no weapons had been found in Iraq. He reported on Radio 4’s Today programme: “The government probably knew that the 45-minute claim was wrong… Downing Street ordered it be sexed up.” Gilligan subsequently identified Campbell as responsible.

Campbell went ballistic, accusing Gilligan of lying and the BBC of a vendetta.

Journalists rushed to identify the source. Kelly told Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials he had spoken to Gilligan — he worked for the MoD — and he was outed to the press, probably by the MoD.

Goslett dismisses the idea that Kelly crumbled in the spotlight and took his own life, providing plenty of evidence to the contrary. Instead, he suggests Kelly was the “fall guy”.

He notes the unusual intensity of the police reaction to Kelly’s initial disappearance and the fact that immediately when a body was discovered Blair — in mid-flight — was informed. Then before Blair’s plane could land, his friend and Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer had ordered a public inquiry and appointed Lord Hutton, a Northern Ireland judge used to dealing with British intelligence, to chair it.

A public inquiry caused the inquest into Kelly’s death to be adjourned and subsequently wrapped up. This was significant since an inquest is legally required to establish the time, place and cause of a death.

None of these requirements applied to Hutton. As a result, the time, place and cause of Kelly’s death were never firmly established and Hutton consigned much of the evidence, including photographs of Kelly’s body, to be withheld from public view for 70 years.

Hutton’s 750-page report then confirmed Kelly’s suicide, exonerated Campbell and castigated the BBC, whose director general and chairman resigned alongside Gilligan.

It was a key moment in the emasculation of the BBC as a source of news.

The evidence Goslett has assembled suggests Kelly would not and could not have killed himself in the way Hutton concluded. But multiple witnesses and experts willing to testify to this fact were not called to give evidence.

Goslett suggests three possible explanations: Kelly was murdered, died of natural causes during questioning, or “was disappeared”.

His forensic account leaves key questions unanswered, but this is not a conspiracy theorist’s book. It is a meticulous review of the evidence by an establishment journalist discomforted by the official cover up.