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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 16:59 GMT
Fanning the flames of conspiracy
By Brian Wheeler
At Oxford Old Assizes

Dr David Kelly
Lord Hutton found that Dr Kelly had committed suicide
Someone - the fire service presumably - has hung a banner above the entrance to Oxford coroner's court showing a smouldering cigarette end.

"Put it out. Put it right out", the poster urges.

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate mantra for Oxfordshire coroner Nicholas Gardiner, as he battled in vain to extinguish the controversy surrounding the apparent suicide of Dr David Kelly.

As an exercise in firefighting, Tuesday's 15 minute hearing was doomed from the start - a fact ruefully acknowledged by Mr Gardiner himself.

"This hearing will do little to put an end to the controversy relating to the death of Dr Kelly," he said at one point in his statement.

How right he was.

Hutton refugees

The purpose of the hearing was to rule out an inquest into Dr Kelly's death, and hopefully draw a line under the long-running saga of Dr Kelly's apparent suicide.

In contrast to the modern, antiseptic environs of Court 76 at the Royal Courts of Justice, where I had heard the Hutton verdict delivered, The Old Assizes at Oxford, does at least feel like a real court; all wooden benches, red velvet and an air of faded Victorian splendour.

But there was little of the sense of drama that attended the Hutton hearings, as the outcome had been widely trailed in the press.

A small band of Hutton refugees, in anoraks and blazers, had made the trip to Oxford. But they were greatly outnumbered by journalists, who squashed into the pew-like press bench to hear Mr Gardiner's words.

The coroner began by acknowledging the public interest in the case.

'Interested parties'

He had received dozens of letters, e-mails and phone calls, he said, all of which had been read, if not necessarily acknowledged.

He did not "want to enter into correspondence" on the matter, he said.

There were clearly no shortage of interested parties in Dr Kelly's death. But within the conventions that govern such things, they were not "properly interested parties", Mr Gardiner explained.

"Members of the public" were not normally called as witnesses in court cases, so they would not be called in this case.

Jeremy Gompertz QC made a brief statement on behalf of the Kelly family. Mr Gardiner asked David Pearson, acting for the government if he had anything to say. He did not.

Case closed?

Having reviewed the evidence that had not been presented to the Hutton Inquiry, Mr Gardiner said he was satisfied there was no need for further investigation.

The Lord Chancellor believed there were no "exceptional reasons" why the inquest into the death of Dr Kelly should be re-convened and neither did he.

The Hutton Inquiry's findings - that Dr Kelly had killed himself - would stand.

This would be his final word on the matter. Case closed. Or so Mr Gardiner fondly hoped.

Out in the car park, the Kelly Inquiry Group (KIG) - a loose affiliation of barristers, doctors and other interested parties who have made Dr Kelly's death their business - were handing out press releases. They wanted answers.

Why had Dr Kelly's body apparently been moved after death?

Who were the "three individuals in black or dark clothing" seen "acting suspiciously" at the scene of Dr Kelly's death on the morning his body was found?

Why had the police tactical support operation - condemned "Mason" - started nine hours before Dr Kelly had been reported missing?

Murder claim

Michael Shrimpton, a barrister who said he was with the KIG, wanted to know why the forensic report could not confirm Dr Kelly had swallowed 29 co-proxamol tablets.

Could the drug have been injected, and the puncture marks hidden by the cut wounds to Dr Kelly's wrists?

Squinting at the Spring sunshine, Mr Shrimpton told a gaggle of television interviewers his personal belief was that Dr Kelly had been murdered.

But he wanted the matter "put before a jury".

"The British public will not be satisfied with the outcome of the Hutton Inquiry and it will not be satisfied with this hearing today."

The remaining Kelly heretics were still sharing their thoughts with an American television crew a good 20 minutes after the hearing had ended.

Mr Gardiner's wish that the Kelly family should be allowed to "grieve in peace" seemed a long way from coming true.


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