Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The death of Dr. David Kelly - An open letter to Professor Derrick Pounder and other forensic pathologists

In a recent article in the Guardian, The experts are clear on how David Kelly died, several forensic pathologists are quoted by Vikram Dodd as casting doubt over concerns relating to the death of Dr. David Kelly.

I have today written to the UK-based forensic pathologists that Vikram Dodd quotes, drawing to their attention the potential serious implications of what they are doing.

The text of my email to Professor Derrick Pounder and other forensic colleagues is below.

It will be interesting to see if they venture serious answers to the questions posed to them.

The email was entitled,
The Death of David Kelly - Possible conspiracy to pervert the course of justice

Here is the text:

Professor Pounder (and other visible recipients),

My working hypothesis is that Dr. David Kelly was murdered.

I write to draw to your attention my serious concerns that the public comments attributed to yourself (and other forensic pathologists) may, wittingly or unwittingly, be tending to conceal (or participate in) a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The concerns I express are my own. I imagine that you'll be aware from the press that I am not alone in expressing concerns about the death of Dr. David Kelly.

If, at a later date, it can be demonstrated that a signficant number of forensic pathologists have contributed to concealing the existence of a sloppy and ill-thought out investigation into the murder of Dr. David Kelly, it seems to me that recent activity raises fundamental questions about the integrity of forensic science in the United Kingdom.

In other words, if senior forensic pathologists and other forensic scientists are willing, wittingly or unwittingly, to conceal the murder of Dr. David Kelly are they similarly willing to pervert the course of justice in the evidence they give in court? Are all convictions based on the evidence of the participating forensic pathologists "safe"? I am sure that you realise at least of some of the implications of such a perception growing in the public or legal mind.

The choice, and it is unlikely to be a palatable one to you, is between you raising serious questions about the integrity of the forensic investigation into the death of Dr. David Kelly or, at a later date, risking far more global serious questions arising about the integrity of forensic investigation in the United kingdom.

I urge you, collectively, to think very carefully before jeopardising the public perception of the integrity of an entire profession. A profession on whose integrity the very credibility of the criminal justice system often depends.

If your primary concern is for the truth regarding the death of Dr. David Kelly to be established then I think your course of action is clear. You should write to the Attorney General asking him to open an inquest into Dr. Kelly's death. The currently unaswered questions are too fundamental to allow any other course of action to be pursued with integrity, in my view.

The single most important failing in Dr. Hunt's approach, in my opinion, is that he failed (properly or at all) to consider the possibility of the death of Dr. David Kelly as being murder being dressed up as suicide. Whether that failure was as a result of incompetence or premeditation on his part or some other factor is currently not certain. It had hugely detrimental effects on the quality of the postmortem report and the validity of Dr. Hunt's conclusions.

It seems to me that the appalling deficiencies of Dr. Hunt's investigation of Dr. Kelly's death contributed in a material way to the Hutton Inquiry arriving at an erroneous conclusion.

On the morning of 18th July 2003, the death of Dr. David Kelly was a "suspicious death".

A competent, intelligent and diligent forensic pathologist should, in all the circumstances, have appreciated that if murder was possible, then murder dressed up as suicide was a possible scenario in the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly.

He should have shown that he had asked such a question at the beginning and it should have stayed in his thinking throughout his investigation until he could safely exclude such a possibility..In particular, he should have couched his conclusions in suitable terms to express areas where his findings were consistent both with suicide or murder dressed up as suicide. If he considered that he could exclude one of those possibilities he should have expressed his logic in arriving at such a conclusion in meticulous detail.

In my opinion, Dr. Hunt failed abjectly to consider the possibility of murder dressed up as suicide.

On that criterion alone his postmortem report (recently made publicly available) and his oral testimony to the Hutton Inquiry are, essentially, worthless. At least with respect to distinguishing between the two competing hyphotheses that I mentioned earlier.

You may also wish to consider the following specific questions which, I think, Dr. Hunt ought to have investigated more fully or have described in more detail. The list is illustrative of unanswered questions, rather than attempting to be exhaustive.

1. Could Dr. Kelly have had the strength in his right hand to make the incisions in the left wrist? Dr. Hunt observed the old operation scar near the right elbow of the body but made no assessment of its potential functional significance. This seems to me to be gross negligence on Dr. Hunt's part. It is possible that Dr. Hunt was unaware at the time of the evidence of Mai Pederson on this matter. However, at a minimum, the scar at the right elbow (and written medical reports on the Hutton Inquiry web site) should have raised this fundamental question in Dr. Hunt's mind. He should have documented his consideration of the question in his postmortem report.

2. Was the knife found at the site sharp or blunt? I can trace no evidence that either Dr. Hunt or any forensic colleague made any assessment of this basic question. If the knife was blunt then it, in all likelihood, wasn't the weapon which incised Dr. Kelly's left wrist. If the weapon which inflicted the injuries at the left wrist wasn't with the body, then the suicide hypothesis is wholly discredited, in my view. What can be the explanation of Dr. Hunt's seeming failure to ask this question. Lack of competence or lack of integrity? And, of course, Dr. Hunt presents not a shred of evidence that the knife found at the site was, in fact, used. So much for any credible chain of evidence!

3. Dr. Hunt was aware that the only supply of water available to Dr. Kelly was a 500ml bottle of Evian water (which wasn't empty). Dr. Hunt failed to consider if it was realistic to postulate that David Kelly swallowed some 29 co-proxamol tablets using of the order of 350ml of water. Had he asked the question, he might well have found an answer which, equally, was difficult to swallow! If Dr. Kelly couldn't have swellowed the postulated 29 co-proxamol tablets with the water available, then other possible scenarios for introduction of paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene into Dr. Kelly's body should have been considered. Dr. Hunt again failed to address sufficiency of critical thought to what he observed .

4. The water remaining in the bottle also raises doubts about the haemorrhage hypothesis. To die of haemorrhage Dr. Kelly would, in all likelihood, have had haemorrhagic shock for a considerable period (given the likely slow rate of blood loss from a severed ulnar artery). He would become increasingly thirsty. Dr. Hunt fails to ask if it is credible that someone experiencing the thirst of haemorrhagic shock would casually ignore the available water in the bottle of Evian water. When a question is not asked, it cannot have been answered.

5. Dr. Hunt asks us to believe that Dr. Kelly died from haemorrhage from an ulnar artery. He neither comments on the absence of arterial rain on the clothing, nor considers the questions that the absence of arterial rain raises for the suicide hypothesis. Again, I can find no legitimate explanation for Dr. Hunt's failures in this regard.

6. Dr. Hunt speculates that Dr. Kelly having his bifocals in his pockets is evidence of self-harm. That is entirely speculative. A major practical problem with bifocals is that the arc of transition between what are effectively two corrective lenses is a significant nuisance at distances other than when reading or, say, driving. Dr. Kelly was walking along a woodland path. Much of what he would have been looking at would have been at mid distance where bifocals could have been more a hindrance than a help. It is entirely unsurprising that in a woodland or rural walk he was not wearing his bifocals.

7. Dr. Hunt fails to consider forensic pathology evidence in its wider context. The lines of vomit from the corners of Dr. Kelly's mouth to the mastoid area occurred while Dr. Kelly was on his back. Dr. Hunt either didn't know (or chose not to know) that Dr. Kelly was slumped or sitting against a tree when first found. One has to postulate a "Lazarus hypothesis" or a "suspension of the laws of gravity" for Dr. Kelly to get from an agonal supine position (when the vomit occurred) to the body position found by Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman. Dr. Hunt, yet again, fails to think as I would expect a competent and diligent forensic pathologist to do in all the prevailing circumstances.

8. The primary cause of death is given as haemorrhage. Dr. Hunt made no attempt to quantify the amount of blood loss, nor to document the uncertainties that resulted from the absence of any worthwhile measurement of how much blood was lost. The inevitable result of Dr. Hunt's failure is to render his conclusions little more than speculative.

These questions are illustrative of how the credibility of the "suicide hypothesis" falls apart under more than cursory scrutiny.

They suffice for the present purpose.

I suggest that it would be much more in keeping with the scientific process if forensic pathologists and other forensic scientists who make public comment regarding the death of Dr. David Kelly would address each of the questions in the preceding list.

It is easy for commentators to the media to score cheap points.

A credible response from the forensic science professions demands more serious scientific consideration than has been evident hitherto.

We know, for example, that there were incisions in the left wrist. Crucially what we don't know is who put them there, where and when.

If the forensic pathologist commentators believe they can authoritatively resolve questions such as the preceding then, as a first step, they need to address the specific questions posed in this email. Evasion is no substitute for critical thinking.

As you are probably aware there is ongoing consideration by Dominic Grieve QC, the Attorney General as to whether an inquest is needed into the death of Dr. David Kelly. Accordingly, I am copying this email to Kevin McGinty of the Attorney General's Office for information.

It is my hope that you and fellow recipients will, going forward, act in this matter as forensic scientists of integrity and write to the Attorney General acknowledging that there are legitimate scientific questions to be answered.

I have earlier made public my concerns expressed to the Attorney General (see, for example, ). I invite you, Professor Pounder, and colleagues to send a formal submission to Dominic Grieve and to make your submission available for public scrutiny,assessment and comment.

Without the opportunity for scrutiny by peers and the public the concerns regarding the death of Dr. David Kelly simply won't go away.

It is neither sufficient nor honourable for forensic pathologists to bury their head in the sand and pretend there aren't serious problems.

Professor Pounder, I am willing to meet with you to discuss this matter in detail. If my concerns are ill founded I will publicly acknowledge them to be so. Can you demonstrate comparable seriousness in establishing whether or not the death of Dr. David Kelly was murder?

Thank you

(Dr) Andrew Watt

P.S. For the avoidance of doubt, this email is an "open letter". I intend to post a copy of it (with list of visible recipients) on my blog here:

Intended addressees:
Professor Derrick Pounder, University of Dundee
Professor Peter Vanezis, London
Dr. Andrew Davison, Cardiff
Professor Guy Rutty, Leicester
cc Vikram Dodd (who quoted each of the above recently in the Guardian)
bcc Various - to keep recipients "honest"

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