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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 July, 2004, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
A year on from the death of David Kelly
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online politics reporter

It was mid-afternoon on 17 July, 2003 when Dr David Kelly left his comfortable home in Oxfordshire and set off on a five-mile trek to a beauty spot.

There, he sat down, took some painkillers and cut his left wrist, eventually bleeding to death in the open countryside.

David Kelly
David Kelly: Intense scrutiny was too much for him
The government weapons scientist had been under intense pressure after he was revealed as the source of a BBC story that the government had "sexed-up" a dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A shy, meticulous man, with an unrivalled reputation as an expert on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, Dr Kelly had been dragged into the harsh glare of publicity, and subjected to hostile cross-examination by MPs and journalists.

His death sparked an extraordinary chain of events - an inquiry that lifted the lid on the inner workings of government and almost threatened to topple the prime minister but ended up instead precipitating one of the biggest crises in the BBC's history.

British politics - public life even - would never be quite the same again.

'Visibly shaken'

Tony Blair was on a plane bound for Tokyo when he learned of Dr Kelly's death.

Hours earlier - while the scientist's body lay undiscovered - the prime minister was enjoying what should have been one of the crowning moments of his career, addressing both houses of the US Congress.

A visibly shaken Mr Blair agreed virtually on the spot to hold an inquiry "into the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly's death".

Hearings began on Monday, 11 August.

For six weeks, during one of the hottest summers in living memory, Britain's political elite made their way to London's Royal Courts of Justice, to give evidence.

'Responsibility is mine'

Former MI6 man and chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, emerged from the shadows to take the stand.

On 28 August, Mr Blair appeared, telling the inquiry "the responsibility is mine" for the decisions leading to the naming of Dr Kelly.

Lord Hutton
Peering over his spectacles, Lord Hutton considered the evidence
A few days later, on 1 September, Dr Kelly's widow Janice gave an insight into the scientist's state of mind before his death, saying he was "distracted" and "dejected" and had appeared "heartbroken" on the day he disappeared.

Presiding over it all was the magisterial figure of retired law lord Brian Hutton, peering impassively over half moon spectacles.

Lord Hutton was portrayed, in glowing newspaper profiles, as a man who would not shrink from handing down a damning verdict on the government, if it was required.

Treasure trove

Hutton-obsessives queued up each morning for tickets to the public gallery, to witness him in action.

While for political junkies the Hutton website was a treasure trove.

Journalists normally starved of hard facts about the inner workings of government - until papers are released decades after the event - suddenly found themselves with a banquet.

Private e-mails and memos, minutes of private meetings, even extracts from Alastair Campbell's private journals (then director of communications at Downing St) - it was all there.

And when Hutton retired to consider his verdict on 25 September, it seemed the stakes could not have been higher.

Mr Blair admitted to MPs he would have to resign if Hutton said he had lied over the releasing of Dr Kelly's name to the media.

'BBC to blame'

Lord Hutton would later reveal, in evidence to a select committee, that he did not want to "play to the gallery" by exposing the prime minister to "glaring headlines".

Greg Dyke
Greg Dyke resigned from the BBC immediately after the Hutton report
His job was to focus on the events that may have led to Dr Kelly's death, rather than the wider issue of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

But on the day his verdict was unleashed on a waiting world, the government was braced for the worst.

A leak in that morning's Sun newspaper had already given the game away to some extent saying the "BBC was to blame".

But for those present at the inquiry, there was still a genuine sense of surprise at the extent to which Hutton spared the government.


It was the BBC - and Today programme reporter Andrew Gilligan - which felt the full force of his criticism.

Mr Gilligan's claim Downing Street had "sexed-up" the case against Saddam Hussein in its September 2002 dossier - inserting information it "probably knew" to be wrong - was dismissed out of hand.

The government - and Mr Blair - were in the clear.

The Hutton report was, perhaps inevitably, dismissed as a "whitewash" in some sections of the media.

But its pointed criticisms of the management failures that led to Mr Gilligan's report being broadcast were taken seriously by the BBC.

Chairman Gavyn Davies tendered his resignation, followed almost immediately by director general Greg Dyke, who departed amid emotional scenes at the BBC.

Meanwhile, US President George W Bush ordered an inquiry into alleged intelligence failings in the run-up to war, forcing Mr Blair to follow suit.

Lord Butler's report, published on Wednesday, highlighted failings in British intelligence and governmental procedures.

It also sent journalists and opposition politicians scurrying back to Hutton's report into Dr Kelly's death.


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