Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Death of David Kelly - A Detailed Critique of the Postmortem Report

Much of the coverage in the mainstream media of the postmortem report produced by Dr. Nicholas Hunt which was recently released by the Ministry of Justice, Dr Kelly post mortem and toxicology reports, was a jumble of disconnected quotes and inadequate analysis.

This critique doesn't attempt to be exhaustive. It would take a very long article indeed to explore all the potential shortcomings of Dr. Hunt's report.

It simply draws attention to areas where I believe, for example, he has been unduly speculative or has failed either to ask appropriate questions or consider particular findings as a whole.

I'll go through the postmortem report, page by page, making comments about particular points. Some points are major; some much less so.

Page 1

Dated 25th July 2003. There are amended versions. Is this the final one? Or might there be versions before and/or after this one?

Page 2

At the time the report was compiled Dr. Hunt expected the report to remain confidential. In other words, he did not expect it to be subject to detailed public scrutiny.

Dr. Hunt knew it was a "suspicious death".

What is the "entrance" (penultimate line)?

Page 3

The knife and wristwatch are noted. But, surprisingly, not the bottle of water.

Bloodstaning over the left arm is mentioned. Surprisingly, the two to three feet long pool of blood (of which more later) isn't observed.

Scene Examination: The identities of two individuals are concealed.

A scene tent had been erected before the forensic biologist had arrived. The potential for destroying evidence is not mentioned by Dr. Hunt.

He notes that one co-proxamol tablet is still in its blister pack but fails to ask, here or later, why or whether a supposed suicide would neatly leave one tablet to make identification of the type of tablet easier.

Page 4

First bullet point. The "left" hand is actually the "right", I suspect.

Third bullet point. What might the "greenish material" be?

Third and fifth bullet points - Why are two statements both, supposedly, about blood and the right knee separated? Should one (as with the first bullet point mentioned above) relate to the other knee?

Seventh and eighth bullet points - Why two statements about bloodstaining and the left elbow?

Notice that there is no mention of "arterial rain" on the clothing. We are asked to believe that David Kelly bled extensively from transection of the ulnar artery without any "arterial rain" on any part of his clothing. Yet Dr. Hunt doesn't indicate he has noted the absence of the arterial rain, not considered the implications of its absence in a context where he later postulates haemorrhage as the primary cause of death. A surprising and troubling omission.

Eleventh bullet point - The vomit is important and I intend to write a detailed post about that in due course.

Twelfth bullet point - Was the small blood spot underlain by a puncture mark?

Fourteenth bullet point - There was "dirt" at the scene. Surely someone should have examined that earth for footprints etc before the forensic pathologist was let loose?

Watch and knife - Dr. Hunt doesn't appear to consider whether (there having been others at the scene and a tent erected) the relative positions of the knife and watch could have changed. He, equally, seems unaware that DC Coe reported the watch "on top of" the knife at a much earlier stage.

A pool of blood below the knife was measured. (cf the "pool of blood" on page 5)

Broken branches are noted on the penultimate line. Fresh or old? Storm damage or human effect? We're not told.

The position of the bottle is odd, for someone lying on their back.

The bottle of water is 500ml and opened. Dr. Hunt doesn't ask the basic question, here or later, is 500ml (or somewhat less since the bottle has residual water) enough to swallow 29 co-proxamol pills? A bizarre omission, in my view.

Page 5

There is a "two to three feet" area of "bloodstaining and pool of blood", supposedly. I've dealt with that in more detail here, The Death of Dr. David Kelly - the mysterious "pool of blood" seen only by Dr. Nicholas Hunt. Suffice to ask here, if the "pool of blood" existed then why is no record made of its measurement? Why didn't Dr. Hunt talk about it in evidence later at the Hutton Inquiry? After all, isn't the story that David Kelly primarily bled to death?

Rectal temperature - a late measurement gives wider confidence limits for the time of death.

Protective Clothing - I would have liked a description of how the body was bagged around here. Perhaps it's in another report that the public hasn't seen.

Exhibits list - For most exhibits, I'm not aware of the results of tests being made public.

NCH/16 - Leaf from left hand. Old? Fresh? From a source in the vicinity? Of importance? Or irrelevant?

Page 6

NCH/17/5 - Flat cap from game pocket. What happened to the Barbour cap mentioned earlier? It's not listed as an exhibit here.

Post Mortem Examination

59kg is on the light side. Arguably surprisingly light for a man 5'7" tall.

Fingernails show dirt soiling but, apparently, no evidence of blood under them. Was the dirt sampled? Did it match the scene where the body was found?

Page 7

Second bullet point - "An old curving scar around the outer aspect of the right elbow". Objective evidence, I would guess, of an old injury to the right elbow (consistent with Mai Pederson's evidence) or an old operation on the right elbow. (A number of documents on the Thames Valley Police Evidence page on the Hutton Inquiry Web site suggest that it dates to 1992.)

The astonishing thing is that Dr. Hunt notes the scar at the right elbow and later postulates that David Kelly used the right arm to cut his left wrist, but never asks the question about the functionality of the right hand. Could David Kelly hold a knife well? Well enough to make deep cuts in the left wrist? No evidence of professional thinking, simply a conclusion jumped to, as far as I can see!

Page 8

Three bullet points relating to abrasions on the head.

Trunk. Small group of abrasions. Said to be post-mortem.

Right Upper Limb - No comment is made about the right elbow scar mentioned previously.

Unexplained reddish discolouration on the left calf. May be hypostasis. Other possiblities must exist, I would suggest.

Lesion back of left calf. Unknown cause.

Right Lower Limb - small red lesions. One punctate. A puncture mark?? Notice that this lesion is said to be on the "left" thigh in the text, although included in the Right Lower Limb heading.

Page 9

Small abrasion on the lower lip. Is it possible that a nasogastic tube was introduced?

Heart - Coronary artery disease is described with guesstimates of the degree of coronary artery narrowing. There is no evidence of what used to be called "coronary thrombosis". The wording "no definite evidence" implies some evidence but no evidence is described. Perhaps Dr. Hunt should have written "no evidence"?

Page 10

There is no evidence of past myocardial infarction.

Oesophagus - Is the description consistent with a nasogastric tube having been passed?

Bladder - If death was due to ulnar artery exsanguination, it must have happened over many hours. I would tend to have expected concentrated urine, reflecting several hours of progressive blood loss, if the Hutton conclusions were true.

Small areas of brusing below right and left knees.

Page 11

Two small areas of bruising in the back.

One small area of intramuscular haemorrhage.

Lung weights. Are the values reversed? Is the left really heavier than the right??

NCH/29 and NCH/30 - What if anything was found from the nail clippings?

NCH/47 - blood. Where was it obtained from?

Page 12


Page 13

Time of death - The time of measuring the rectal temperature led to wide confidence limits for the time of death.

Conclusion 6. - Something may be "typical" but not prove the assumed cause.

Conclusion 7. - This is wild speculation. Dr. Hunt has no evidence, so far as I can tell, of when the watch was removed.

Conclusion 7. - Re the spectacles. The interpretation is speculation. At least some people who wear bifocals don't wear them all the time e.g. primarily to read and/or drive, in my observation.

Page 14

Conclusion 8. - The interpretation of the placing of the bottle is speculative. Is a third party incapable of neatly placing a bottle and its cap?

Conclusion 8. - Lack of obvious signs of trampling. A silly conclusion. We know that several people have been in or near the body (see evidence to the Hutton Inquiry). They've been there without "obvious signs of trampling". So others could have been there too.

Conclusion 8. - A private spot. Do murderers usually ply their trade in spots that aren't private? This does not differentiate between self-harm and third party involvement.

Conclusion 11. - Essentially speculative. Nothing to justify this being mentioned on the death certificate, as it was later.

Conclusion 12. - Yes, he might have. Or he might not have. It's speculation, really.

Conclusion 13. - Drug concentrations are "not particularly high".

Conclusion 16. - Could it be due to passage of a nasogastric tube?

Conclusion 17. - Speculation. Might the abrasions not be due to Dr. Kelly's body being carried into the wood, for example?

Conclusion 18. - Maybe. Other causes are possible, including causes relating to third party involvement.

Conclusion 22. - The scalp abrasions merited more careful thought in this context, I suggest.

Conclusion 25. - Hmm!


  1. We have no idea at all what or where the entrance is or where the common approach pathway goes in relation to the familiar white tent. Or even how long it is or in which direction. Is the entrance related to the mysterious gate? The common approach pathway is a highly significant and curious thing: totally undefined but everywhere.

  2. PS This is a very fine and penetrating critique of an extremely woolly report.

  3. Thanks for the compliment, Felix.

    I guess that the "entrance" is the point where the "common access pathway" joins the "track" that runs about 50-70 yards (east?) of where David Kelly's body was found.

    Again guessing, I suspect the "common approach path" heads west for 50-70 yards from the "white tent" seen in some aerial shots.

    But that white tent isn't the tent over the body. You probably already know that.

  4. Felix,

    To be fair to Nicholas Hunt he did a lot of things right, in my view.

    BUT ... it's the things he failed to think about and the way he speculates wildly at times that disturbs me significantly about his report.

  5. Yes, is that 'punctate lesion' a puncture mark? Because if so, it is pretty important in the context of a suspicious death - especially one in which any murderer is likely to be a well-equipped expert.

    Also yes, the number of bruises, abrasions and lacerations certainly seem to undermine the bald assertion that there was no evidence of a struggle. No conclusive pathological evidence of a fight, no - but why would there be? this is perhaps useful as a kind of illustrated thought-experiment about the way any putative confrontation might be expected to go.

    In the Hutton testimony there was something about the injuries possibly being caused by 'thrashing about in the undergrowth, if you like'. Hutton clearly did like. (Thrashing about in the undergrowth??)

    Also the number of drafts and the matter of dehydration and concentrated urine are particularly good points, ISTM.

    re: the 'pool of blood' - Hunt actually reports an area containing bloodstains/droplets and a pool of blood - which may be the same (very small) pool of blood that he reports as being under the knife. He does not report analysing any of the bloodstains I don't think. Maybe Mr Green the forensic biologist did that. Unfortunately all his findings seem to have been discarded(!)

    In any case it is odd that this area should be described in such a vague way - almost as if it were intended to suggest to the casual reader - without actually lying - that there was more blood than in fact there was, or that there was arterial rain rather than these non-descript 'bloodstains'.

    BTW it strikes me that your analysis could profitably be presented as a 'Fisking' - i.e. comments interspersed among the original text. Just for future reference, in case you did want to produce something along those lines, or just to quote part of the text at some point, I've posted a plain text version of the pathology report here.

  6. re the transcription - just noticed you're already aware of it.

  7. Tim,

    The punctate lesion could be a puncture mark, but it's not described adequately to allow a definitive conclusion to be drawn.

    In other circumstances one might simply assume it was a mere skin blemish.

    In the circumstances of the death of David Kelly I believe that Dr. Hunt's description is wholly inadequate in my view.

  8. Tim,

    The "thought experiment" on Youtube is interesting.

    Many other possible scenarios, of course, exist, in my view.

    A propos of the dehydration / urine question (in the postmortem report) you might also find this post of interest:

    It looks at the limited (but not exhausted) supply of water as it applies to the two principal (supposed) causes of death.

  9. Tim,

    A propos of the blood loss etc ...

    The report of Roy Green isn't publicly available but seems to be on the Hutton website.

    I deal with the mysterious two to three feet "pool of blood" in this post:

  10. I agree there is an open-ended set of possibilities; to name just one, severe interrogation gone wrong.

    The 'thought experiment' was really to illustrate the fact that in such circumstances, even when they see it coming and know what they're in for, victims do not necessarily fight tooth and nail. And in any case, when faced with far superior strength, one may be overpowered without sustaining any major injury, however much resistance one puts up.

    This may all sound a bit febrile, but if the case is to be taken seriously, this kind of scenario obviously has to be thought through.

    Do you have a link to the Green report? How do you mean, on the site but not publicly available?

    Re the 'pool of blood' - the wording is ambiguous - although it's easily read as "there was bloodstaining, and in an area of 2-3', a pool of blood", it must I think actually mean "there was bloodstaining and a pool of blood, which between them occupied an area of 2-3'".

    The suggestive ambiguity could of course be deliberate, especially in light of the multiple drafts and the by-now-well-known practice of 'sexing up'...

    In fact, the use of a very vague linear measure (2-3') seem very odd in the circumstances. I wonder how wide (and exactly how long) this area was? There is even the possibility that some casual readers, expecting complete and accurate dimensions, might read this as 2x3'.

  11. Tim,

    I suspect that the following document:

    Copy forensic submission - not for release - Police operational information TVP/7/0093 - 0096


    On the same page the postmortem report is this:

    Witness statement: Dr NCA Hunt - not for release - personal witness statement TVP/1/0059 - 0073

    And the toxicology report is this:

    Witness statement: Alexander Richard Allan - not for release - personal witness statement TVP/1/0033 - 0038
    is the forensic biologist's report.

  12. Oops,

    The first mentioned document in the previous comment is the Roy Green report, I suspect.

  13. Yes, could be.

    Only three pages is very little for a report, given the amount of stuff he said he was looking at. Perhaps it is the interim spreadsheet/progress report he said he had lodged with the inquiry. That would fit the description as a 'submission' rather than a statement, perhaps.