Monday, 6 December 2010

The death of David Kelly - Lazy and deceptive journalism by Vikram Dodd of the Guardian

One of the notable aspects of recent coverage of the death of David Kelly by the Guardian is the uniformity of view that David Kelly killed himself.

It is an interesting question why a supposedly reputable newspaper publishes only one side of a story.

Followers of this blog and other sources of discussion and information about the death of David Kelly will be aware that there is a significant amount of evidence that calls into question the officially accepted "suicide hypothesis".

Why, then, does the Guardian fail to report this?

The approach of the Guardian merits close scrutiny.

Some of the Guardian coverage is lazy and deceptive, in my view.

One Guardian journalist, Vikram Dodd, wrote in August 2010 this article, David Kelly: forensic experts say Hutton inquiry scientifically sound, and in October 2010 wrote this article: The experts are clear on how David Kelly died.

Vikram Dodd's October 2010 article purports to be a response to the release on 22nd October 2010 of the postmortem and toxicology reports on David Kelly.

But it's not that at all.

On closer examination, the supposed "expert" comments seemingly from October are simply regurgitated quotes from August 2010 at a time when the "experts" ought not to have had access to the reports released in October 2010.

Vikram Dodd is, in my view, deceiving his readers into believing that the "experts" have responded to the newly released documents.

It is interesting to compare the supposedly contemporary quotes in August 2010 and October 2010.

In August 2010 Dr. Andrew Falzon said this:

You are going to succumb to a smaller volume of blood loss than if you were a 20-year-old with a healthy heart.

The heart vessel is already deprived of oxygen because of the blockage of the vessels. With the loss of blood [caused by cutting the ulnar artery], there is less oxygen to the heart. Throw in the toxic level of drug, that makes the heart more sensitive to cardiac arrhythmia [an electrical disturbance] which causes sudden death.

I'm sure bleeding from the ulnar artery can kill you.

Amazingly, Dr. Falzon supposedly used exactly the same words in October 2010 when talking to Mr. Dodd, including the essentially meaningless term "the heart vessel".

In August 2010 and October 2010 Professor Peter Vanezis is quoted as saying this:

"These people are more clinicians and are obviously surprised that a person can kill themselves like that." Vanezis also said the lack of large amounts of blood in the wood where Kelly was discovered could also be easily explained: "It was outside, it could have gone into the soil."

In August 2010 and October 2010 Dr. Andrew Davison is quoted as saying this:

You only have so much blood going around. If you have a heart condition you can't afford to lose as much blood as a healthy person.

In August 2010 and October 2010 Professor Derrick Pounder is quoted as saying this:

It may be that there are several factors in a death. In this case, we know he had taken more than a therapeutic dose of drugs, and that he had some pre-existing heart disease. We have three factors in the death that are known to the public. The cause of death is likely an interplay between the three.

Of course, none of the quoted "experts" actually say how David Kelly died. How could they since they hadn't in August 2010 seen the postmortem and toxicology reports?

Banal generalities simply don't cut the mustard first time round.

Regurgitating them simply demonstrates how shallow is Vikram Dodd's coverage of the death of David Kelly.


  1. Perhaps Richard Norton-Taylor,the Guardian's Security Affairs correspondent who co-wrote with Dodd at the time of the Hutton Inquiry and who is a member of council of RUSI, might be able to explain the Guardian's coverage. Norton-Taylor's shallow review of Norman Baker's deeply researched book is here.
    In contrast, here is Mr Norton-Taylor sharing a platform at the 10th Missile Defence Conference of RUSI, sponsored by Boeing and Thales in 2009.
    See also Rowena's Blog post on Norton-Taylor's review.

  2. Felix,

    Thanks for the links.

    I tend to think that Richard Norton-Taylor's book review is fairly "ok". Not that you're wrong about it being shallow, but it's easy to forget that it's really tough for people to get sufficiently "into" the Hutton Inquiry material to make any sensible comment.

    So, lazy (or time-constrained) journalists that they are, they fall back on cliches that aren't too controversial.

    It's "safe" journalism. But it's also shoddy journalism in my view.

  3. Do any of these people have a clue what they are talking about!
    "Vanezis also said the lack of large amounts of blood in the wood where Kelly was discovered could also be easily explained: "It was outside, it could have gone into the soil"
    I visited the site to check this. Did Professor Peter Vanezis visit the site and check the soil type?
    There is little to no leaf mould on the ground where the body was found to soak up any blood.
    There was no way that any quantity of blood soaked into the ground as Harrowdown Wood is situated on an outcrop of very hard almost impermeable Oxford Clay.

  4. Frank,

    A problem with each of the quoted statements is that they're generalities - in general there might be some validity in what's said.

    But, equally, they may not be valid in a specific situation.

    The problem, as you rightly point out, is that they may not apply to the David Kelly situation.

    Look for words such as "can", "could", "may" and "likely". They all let the person quoted off the hook.

    Of course, it's easier for journalists to get quotes about generalities since the quoted forensic pathologists can defend those (since they're no more than generalities) without having to seriously think about whether an offered explanation actually holds water with respect to the death of David Kelly.

  5. I believe that Frank's observations of conditions at Harrowdown Hill are very important.

    Mr Green, forensic biologist, is examined, 'at short notice' apparently, by Mr Dingemans on 3rd September. The ambulance crew had expressed their surprise on the previous day about the perceived lack of blood at the scene. When this observation was put to Mr Green he stated 'Well, there was a fair bit of blood' (page 143) He then explained to Lord Hutton that 'the body was on leaf litter' and that the blood 'would obviously soak in'. This leads to the remark by Mr Dingemans: 'A bit like blotting paper in some respects?' to which Mr Green replies 'Yes'

    So far as I can see nobody else has mentioned leaf litter at Harrowdown Hill. Interestingly when we get to page 147 Mr Green says 'there did not appear to be any blood underneath where he was found'. This observation by Mr Green doesn't sit comfortably with the remark he had only just made about blood soaking into leaf litter that he said was under the body.

    My conclusion is that Mr Green totally misled the Inquiry when he spoke about blood soaking into leaf litter.

  6. It is also a very strange time of year for there to be a lot of leaf litter.
    Excellent points, Brian. So we have both a lot of blood and no blood at the same time. That's a real conundrum.

  7. Brian,

    I'm aware of one other mention of leaf detritus - by Dave Bartlett, the ambulance technician, in this article: Dr David Kelly's body 'had obviously been moved': Paramedic at death scene reveals concerns over Hutton Inquiry

    He said: ‘I said to the copper at the time, “Who stood the bottle of water up or has it been moved?” They said it hadn’t been moved. ‘For someone lying like that on leaf mould with a bottle of water there, he would have knocked it over while dying, I would have thought. It seemed very odd to me.’

  8. Andrew

    The term "leaf-mould" seems to be used quite loosely in my opinion. My dictionary defines it as 'soil composed chiefly of decaying leaves', the sort of stuff that one can shovel up into a bag and enrich the topsoil in ones garden. This has always been my perception of it. If there was substantial amounts of leaf mould then I can accept blood soaking into it to an extent.

    As leaf mould is organic I would have expected Mr Green to make testing of the "leaf mould" for blood presence an early priority. Interestingly Mr Green talks of leaf litter indicative to me of loose leaves on the woodland floor but without any build up of thickness and the information that Frank supplied to me about his observations on a summer visit seem to bear this out.

    It's interesting that Dr Hunt is absolutely certain about suicide by Saturday 19th July it seems yet almost seven weeks later at the Inquiry we have Mr Green saying his tests are still ongoing!

    I don't believe that the TVP had looked into DK's death sufficiently deeply by the Saturday afternoon when I believe they made a statement that they weren't looking for anyone else. They seem to have been over reliant on Dr Hunt's opinion, it all came together far too quickly I would say.

  9. It is instructive to read the 2004 Observer interview with the paramedics. There is no mention of leaf mould - perhaps Mr Bartlett might have refreshed himself with the Hutton transcripts before his subsequent interview and the phrase "leaf mould" stuck in his mind.
    Certainly the 2004 piece has a real sense of immediacy about it - they had assumed en route that it was another an early morning automobile CO poisoning discovery. Both accounts indicate that Harrowdown was crawling with police that morning, a very unusual suicide response indeed.

  10. Brian,

    You're right. The terms are used loosely. It's one reason why I used the term "leaf detritus" - to flag up that we don't know quite what we're dealing with in regard to leaf ... um ... detritus.

    I agree that "leaf litter" tends to imply loose leaves (probably not significantly absorbent but they could conceal blood underneath) and that "leaf mould" implies a highly organic leaf-derived soil (which would likely, depending on how damp it is, be potentially highly absorbent).

  11. Felix,

    The Observer article is fascinating.

    Are "Army fatigues" suggestive of some individuals other than Police being present at the scene?

    Why are "special armed response units" at the scene of a death some, maybe, 30-60 minutes after an unidentified body is found? (The uncertainties about timing are frustrating here.)

    The surroundings of the scene at Harrowdown Hill is painted as being much busier with Police (and possibly others) than I'd imagined it to be as early as 09.30 (or thereabouts) when the Ambulance crew arrived.