Published October 22, 2010
LONDON-- The British government Friday released a formerly secret autopsy report in an attempt to end speculation that the 2003 death of a government weapons scientist at the center of a controversy over the Iraq War was not a suicide.
The lengthy report reaffirms that David Kelly slit his wrist after he was exposed as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that accused then Prime Minister Tony Blair's office of "sexing up" prewar intelligence to justify the 2003 invasion.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said on Friday he was releasing the documents to end speculation over Kelly's death. Some government critics have suggested that Kelly was silenced to prevent him from speaking out.
Clarke said the release was "in the interests of maintaining public confidence" even though it was likely to cause distress for Kelly's family. A lawyer representing Kelly's family said there would be no response.
The BBC report was a major embarrassment for Blair, who had argued that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein posed a substantial threat to Britain's national security because he possessed weapons of mass destruction -- an assertion that later proved false.
Kelly's body was found in a field on July 18, 2003, after he had been reported missing by relatives. The autopsy report by pathologist Nicholas Hunt said Kelly had suffered wounds that appeared to be self-inflicted. He found no sign of foul play or any indication of a struggle.
A post-mortem examination found "a series of incised wounds of varying depth running across the front of the left wrist and slightly onto the thumb side of that wrist," he said. The pathologist said Kelly's ulnar artery had been completely severed, causing significant loss of blood.
"The orientation and arrangement of the wounds over the left wrist are typical of self-inflicted injury," Hunt said. "Also typical of this is the presence of small so-called tentative or 'hesitation' marks."
It appeared Kelly had also taken a large number of painkillers, the report said.
Kelly's death had earlier prompted a major inquiry that cleared the government of any involvement in his demise.
In May 2003, the BBC ran the story quoting an anonymous official -- later identified as Kelly -- as saying Blair's office had insisted on including in a September 2002 dossier a claim that Iraq could deploy some chemical and biological weapons on 45 minutes' notice, despite intelligence experts' doubts.
Blair's office furiously denied the charge, demanding an apology and engaging in a months-long public battle with the BBC. Kelly approached his bosses at the Ministry of Defense, telling them he had met with the BBC's reporters, but saying he did not recognize his comments in the central claims and believed he was not the main source of the piece.
He was thrust into the spotlight after ministry officials decided to confirm his name to reporters who guessed it.