Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Death of Dr. David Kelly - The enigmatic "Operation Mason"

One of the more opaque mysteries surrounding the death of David Kelly is the enigmatic "Operation Mason".

A post by Brian Spencer on his blog, A comment or two on Dr Hunt's Report, triggered a line of thought in my mind, about something seemingly unconnected - the mysterious Operation Mason (see my comment here on Brian's blog).

We know very little about Operation Mason, since Lord Hutton chose to withhold the information about it.

There are only two references to Operation Mason on the Hutton Inquiry web site, that I can find.

The first is the more informative and is on the Evidence submitted to the Inquiry by Thames Valley Police page. The Operation Mason material is a long way down the page.

The following information appears about Operation Mason on that page on the Hutton Inquiry web site:

TVP Tactical Support Major Incident Policy Book: Operation 'Mason' Between 1430 17.07.03 and 0930 18.07.03, DCI Alan Young - not for release - Police operational information
TVP/10/0099 - 0105

Not much to go on, perhaps.

What does that limited information tell us?

1. Operation Mason has something to do with "tactical support".

2. Operation Mason is, at least in some sense, related to a "major incident".

3. Operation Mason began at 14.30 on 17th July 2003 (about half an hour before Dr. Kelly left his home for the last time).

4. Operation Mason ended at 09.30 on 18th July 2003 (a few minutes after a body resembling that of David Kelly was found at Harrowdown Hill)!

5. DCI Alan Young was, in all likelihood, in charge of Operation Mason.

6. Operation Mason was a police operation, in all likelihood a Thames Valley Police operation.

7. In some sense there was a Thames Valley Police "policy" relating to whatever it was that Operation Mason concerned itself with.

If we spend a moment trying to put those seven points into some sort of coherent whole, some very interesting thoughts arise.

1. A Thames Valley Police major incident started at a time when Dr. David Kelly was still at home (i.e. 14.30 on 17th July 2003).

2. As far as the publicly available storyline from the Hutton Inquiry is concerned there was no incident at all at 14.30 on 17th July 2003.

3. Yet, at a time when there was no incident of any kind (at least reported by the public), that is when Thames Valley Police start a "major incident" following a "policy book".

4. Perhaps most intriguingly of all Operation Mason ended at 09.30 on 18th July.

5. What could be the reason for ending Operation Mason at 09.30? It was only a few minutes since the body had been found at Harrowdown Hill. It wasn't conclusively known if the body was Dr. David Kelly. It wasn't known if the person was alive or dead (other than on the basis of the observation of a lay volunteer searcher, Louise Holmes). Yet, Thames Valley Police (presumably specifically DCI Alan Young) terminated Operation Mason.

You may have alternative hypotheses about what all that means but here's my take on Operation Mason.

Not surprisingly, it raises some very disturbing possibilities about the conduct of Thames Valley Police on 17th and 18th July 2003.

Some of what follows is pretty inescapable from the few facts we know. Some is more conjectural.

1. The initiating person who caused Operation Mason to be started at 14.30 on 17th July 2003 wasn't a member of the public.

2. The circumstances that provided the context for Operation Mason were defined in the Policy Book.

3. The initiating person or organisation had authority to initiate a "major incident".

4. No incident of a conventional kind merited Police action at 14.30 on 17th July 2003.

5. I conclude that Operation Mason was initiated by an agent or agency of the UK Government at 14.30 or thereby on 17th July 2003. I can see no logical explanation for the initiating agent or agency not having the preceding characteristics.

6. The most likely nature of Operation Mason was concern by a security service that Dr. Kelly might release "sensitive information".

7. The possibility exists that Dr. David Kelly was under surveillance by Thames Valley Police from 14.30 on 17th July 2003.

8. Dr. Kelly was reported missing at around 23.40 on 17th July 2003.

9. A body, later identified as Dr. Kelly was found by Louise Holmes at roughly 09.20 on 18th July 2003. (The time of finding the body is something I have questions about but won't pursue here.)

10. Some 10 minutes after a body is found, Operation Mason closes. The body has not been positively identified. Nor has it been confirmed by anyone with appropriate training that the body is a dead body.

11. At around 10.07 the paramedics confirm death of the body, using ECG evidence.

The unwholesome possibility is that someone of significant seniority in or close to the British security service ordered a Thames Valley Police operation, a "major incident" as defined in the Policy Book, at 14.30 on 17th July 2003 and was content that the perceived problem had been solved when David Kelly's body was found at 09.20 or thereby on 18th July 2003.

In all likelihood, Dr. Kelly was under observation by Thames Valley Police from that time point of 14.30 on 17th July 2003, or soon thereafter.

The "fortuitous" meeting of DC Coe and Ms Absalom on the morning of 18th July becomes obvious, if it's true that David Kelly was under observation when he spoke to Ms Absalom, sometime after 15.00 on 17th July 2003.

How is the termination of Operation Mason to be explained? The body that Louise Holmes found wasn't known to be dead and it wasn't known to be David Kelly.

At least those crucial facts weren't publicly known.

The only credible explanation in my view is that Thames Valley Police already knew the identity and location of the body and already knew that the body was a dead body.

It seems to me that three possibilities exist in the light of this consideration of Operation Mason.

1. Thames Valley Police allowed David Kelly to kill himself. Despite knowing his identity and location they allowed him to bleed to death.

2. Thames Valley Police allowed person or persons unknown to murder David Kelly.

3. A member of Thames Valley Police murdered David Kelly.

Of course, none of those possibilities sheds a positive light on Thames Valley Police, to put it at its mildest.

I can put no less unwholesome construction on the available facts. Can you?


  1. Andrew

    Yes Operation Mason is one of the most disturbing aspects of this business I think. Norman Baker evidently was also puzzled by Operation Mason. He relates that the explanation for the start time given by DI Young (who of course never gave evidence at Hutton) that once an operation has begun the start time is fixed to reflect the period of interest to the police. A sort of backdating of the time I suppose. Make of that what you will!

    I suppose then that the police might say that they gathered from Mrs Kelly during the night, that Dr Kelly had left at about 3 o'clock and that they retrospectively put the start time at 2.30, their period of interest being from about the time Dr Kelly left home. It all sounds a bit feeble.

    Regarding the 9.30 finish time I have just had a thought. This would be about the time Paul Chapman would be showing DC Coe Dr Kelly's body. Was the third man (Special Branch?) phoning in to say 'Operation Mason is over'. This is wild speculation on my part but seems to be the one significant happening at about 9.30.

  2. Brian,

    I think the "explanation" you mention in your first paragraph is simply untrue. My interpretation is that someone (in Thames Valley Police?) put it out as a smokescreen, hoping it would never seriously be questioned.

    Do you have an original source for that "explanation"? If I'm correct that the explanation is a lie, it would be interesting to know its source.

    Even if the explanation were true, it doesn't begin to explain the "major incident" designation, does it?

  3. Brian,

    Regarding the 9.30 finish time I have just had a thought. This would be about the time Paul Chapman would be showing DC Coe Dr Kelly's body. Was the third man (Special Branch?) phoning in to say 'Operation Mason is over'. This is wild speculation on my part but seems to be the one significant happening at about 9.30.

    I think there is a more straightforward explanation which may better fit the facts.

    Paul Chapman phones 999 and asks for a call back.

    When he tells the Police who call him back that the searchers have found a body, then Operation Mason can be wound up. The finding of David Kelly is the final piece of the jigsaw.

    I assume that DCI Young ws told almost immediately, around the time that ACC Page was told.

    The danger, I suggest, that required the "major incident" Operation Mason was that David Kelly would divulge information.

    Operation Mason was about making sure of the silence of David Kelly, not about finding him.

    Once he's dead then Operation Mason is over. A dead David Kelly is no risk to the agent or agency who initiated Operation Mason while David Kelly was still at home at 14.30 on 17th July 2003.

    And it's closed at 09.30 on 18th July 2003.

    Take note of the time - Operation Mason is closed before death is confirmed by the paramedics and before the body is identified.

    If the Police didn't already know who the body was and that the body was dead, there is no way that they would close the file.

    The Police don't close a file when all that's known is that an unidentified body which may or may not be dead has been found.

    Think about it! Operation Mason was closed at 09.30 because they knew that David Kelly was dead. And, I believe, the only way they could "know" was if they already knew before the volunteer searchers found the body.

    It's an uncomfortable thought, isn't it?

  4. Andrew, as I said elsewhere, there is no concrete proof that Dr Kelly was at home at 2.30pm. It is not without the bounds of possibilty that he had left home at that time. As I said, Mrs Absalom said she thought it was about when he met her in the next village,and it is entirely possible that the phone call to WC Clark may have been made en plein air on the course of his walk.

  5. Andrew, regarding the "explanation" I know from reading NB's book that he spoke to a number of the "major players" when he was compiling the book some of whom were more forthcoming than others ...

    'The police explanation for this curious timing is, according to Supt Young, that once an operation has begun, the start time is fixed not to relate to the moment that the police know of an incident or become involved, but to reflect the period of interest to the police'. This is what Norman has written. Note: DCI Young has been promoted to Supt at some unspecified time.

    As Mr Young appears to have been the person in charge of Operation Mason that might be a very good reason why he didn't appear at the Inquiry.

    I tend to agree with your thought that perhaps it was Paul Chapman's call that triggered the end of Operation Mason.

  6. Felix,

    Does the exact time David Kelly left his house really matter in this context?

    He is, after all, simply a citizen going for a walk.

    And he left home at 14.30 or 15.15 or some other time in that sort of spectrum.

    If you think that the time he left the house is crucial in some material respect, can you explain why at greater length please?

  7. Brian,

    Thanks for the quote from Norman Baker's book.

    I find it facinating, but not at all suprising, that the "explanation" came from DCI Alan Young.

    It's a pity that Norman Baker didn't ask him about the finish time for Operation Mason too.

    Perhaps DCI Young would have told him that it's normal for the Police to terminate an operation when they don't know if a body that's been found is the relevant person and they don't know if he's dead or not.

    Perhaps DCI Young was psychic and didn't before need identiry or death to be established before terminating Operation MAson?

    But, as I hope you appreciate, there is a more credible explanation of the termination time, as I discussed in the original post.

  8. Andrew, I only cast doubt on the time that Dr Kelly is alleged to have left home because you quoted it in your piece in parentheses:
    3. Operation Mason began at 14.30 on 17th July 2003 (about half an hour before Dr. Kelly left his home for the last time).

    It may even be possible that Dr Kelly was part of Operation Mason, leaving home at 2.30, its start time. It is neither relevant nor irrelevant, as ACC Page might have put it.
    But if Dr Kelly is after all, simply a citizen going for a walk then I am Abraham Lincoln. I find it inconceivable that Dr Kelly wasn't being monitored as you yourself admit and if he spoke with Wing Commander Clark at 2.53 , it is possible the fact that he was outdoors was communicated, whether en passant by Dr Kelly, or by the passive humming of bees, traffic on the A420, or skylarks.. Is that relevant? Only in as much as Operation Mason was 23 minutes underway.
    I tend to add extra weight to statements of witnesses like Mrs Absalom, Dog Searchers and Paramedics because they don't have a horse running in the race.