Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Death of Dr. David Kelly - Important technical questions about the knife, wound etc

Much of this post consists of a lengthy technical analysis of whether the knife found at Harrowdown Hill in July 2003 could have been used by David Kelly to cut his own wrists to produce the wounds described by Dr. Nicholas Hunt in his postmortem report of 25th July 2003.

For, I think, the first time someone is asking if it is possible for David Kelly to have made at Harrowdown Hill the wounds described in his left wrist.

That is a different (and more relevant) question from the implicit question usually asked - in general terms can someone cut their own wrist(s). The answer to the general question is "Yes".

I conclude that when one thinks carefully about the wounds and the knife in the context of the circumstances at Harrowdown Hill that it is not credible that David Kelly used the kinfe found at the scene to produce the wounds.

The following was sent to the Attorney General earlier today.

The title of the email to the Attorney General was:
David Kelly - Important Technical Questions about the knife, wounds etc

The text of the email was:

Mr McGinty,

This email is intended for the attention of the Attorney General in connection with a possible application to the High Court for an order that an inquest be held into the death of Dr. David Kelly.

To the best of my understanding the technical questions which I raise in this email have at no time been considered by Dr. Hunt nor by Lord Hutton nor Mr Gardiner. Their respective failures to examine such foundational questions are evidence of gross insufficiency of inquiry in the meaning of Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988, in my view.

It seems to me that the technical questions raised will require detailed consideration by a forensic pathologist and by other individuals with expertise in other forensic disciplines. If, as I believe, the described wounds could not be made by David Kelly using the supposed knife then the "suicide hypothesis" disintegrates.

The questions I raise are multidimensional and much easier to illustrate visually than to describe in words. However, since only words are meantime available to me I hope that what follows can be readily understood, specifically by the relevant experts which I believe the Attorney General will require to consult.

Stated baldly, I conclude that the wounds described by Dr. Hunt in his postmortem report could not have been produced by David Kelly using the knife allegedly found at the scene. Later in the document I present a series of questions the answers to which lead me to the conclusion just stated.

In an ideal world, that conclusion requires access to the knife and the photographs of the wounds. However, since both the knife and the photographs of the wounds have been kept secret I have to base my conclusions largely on the verbal description by Dr. Hunt in his postmortem report and other oral evidence to the Hutton Inquiry. In that sense, although I express a clear conclusion in the preceding paragraph that conclusion is subject to review when the full evidence is made available.

The underlying questions which lead to that conclusion are, in part, in the domain of a forensic pathologist but also lie in the knowledge domain of other forensic disciplines.

Further, I conclude that the wounds described can be produced by a sharp-pointed blade held by a second party standing/sitting/kneeling to Dr. Kelly's left. Such involvement by a second party is, I suggest, the most credible interpretation mechanically in order to produce the described wounds.

Attempting to express these issues in a standalone document is not straightforward, but I hope I succeed in conveying that there is at least good cause to conclude that there is "insufficiency of inquiry" on these foundational questions, in the meaning of Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988.

For convenience, I quote here the statements of Dr. Hunt in his postmortem report of 25th July 2003:


There was 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. The complex of wounds extended over 8 cms from side to side and approximately 5 cms from top to bottom.

The largest wound lay towards the elbow end of the complex and was 6 cms in length with a series of notches over the inner, upper edge. There was crushing and maceration of the skin towards the outer edge where there were again a number of notches. This wound penetrated through to the level of the tendons in the flexor compartment and there was some damage to the tendons themselves, although none appear to be completely severed. The ulnar artery had been completely severed and the ulnar nerve had been partially severed. The radial artery was intact as was the radial nerve. The wound was up to approximately 1-1.5 cms deep.

At the crease of the wrist there were two deep wounds. The lateral, deeper wound penetrated to the level of the flexor retinaculum (sheath of dense connective tissue around muscle tendons at the front of the wrist) and was approximately 2.5 cms long on the skin surface. The smaller, shallower wound was 2 cms long.

There were multiple, fine, superficial, incisions extending from all of the deeper incisions and the vast minority of the injuries lay in parallel with one another.

Towards the upper end of the injury complex there were at least four criss-crossing superficial incisions varying in depth between just cutting the epidermis to just entering the fat. These varied in length between approximately 2.5 and 3 cms. They were all crossed by a number of fine incisions, some orientated obliquely across the wrist. The impression given was of multiple, so-called 'tentative', or 'hesitation' marks

There was also a series of at least three, minor, superficial incisions running in parallel on the inner aspect of the junction of the left wrist crease with the left hypothenar eminence (bulge of tissue at the base of the little finger on the palm of the hand). These were each approximately 1[-]2 cms in length.

There was extensive reddening around the whole injury complex indicating that they had been inflicted whilst the victim was alive.

At the risk of stating the obvious I think it is not in dispute that a bladed object is, in principle, capable of incising and transecting the ulnar artery.

However, that is not the question which is appropriately applied to the consideration of how David Kelly died.

The question, I suggest, that ought to be asked is whether David Kelly was capable of inflicting the wounds described in the circumstances which applied at Harrowdown Hill using the knife which was found at the scene.

If the answer to any component of that question is "No" then, in my opinion, the "suicide hypothesis" must be rejected as untenable.

In order to assist understanding of the strands of meaning contained in that question I split the remainder of this email into the following sections:

1. Which bracing positions are possible?

2. Can a knife of the type indicated be sharpened sufficiently?

3. Can a knife of the type indicated produce the wounds described?

4. Can such a knife produce the wounds in the applicable circumstances?

5. Was David Kelly capable of using the knife in such a way?

6. Is Dr. Hunt's description of the wounds simply wrong?

7. Is there a "better fit" explanation for the wounds described?

The "suicide hypothesis" demands that David Kelly is alive at the beginning of the hypothesised process wherein he cuts his left wrist with the knife found at the scene, that he makes all the incisions using the knife found at the scene held in his right hand and he dies as a result of making those incisions.

1. Which bracing positions are possible?

At the risk of stating the obvious it is essentially impossible in the relevant circumstances to inflict serious wrist wounds without the wrist being braced in some way. If the wrist is, metaphorically, flapping around in the breeze then any wound inflicted will be pretty superficial.

Therefore it's essential to consider what bracing positions are possible.

It's also important to remember that there are multiple incisions, therefore the left wrist would have been oozing and/or bleeding for some time while later wounds were made.

In the circumstances at Harrowdown Hill the possible bracing positions that occur to me each offers significant technical problems for the "suicide hypothesis":

a) Left wrist flat on the ground - This potentially gives excellent bracing (due to the immobility of the ground) but poses huge practical problems to anyone attempting to inflict the described wounds with the alleged knife. The angles are "all wrong" to get down to the ulnar artery. A "round arm" approach results in the right arm impacting on the ground. An attempted "across cut" results in the right arm being blocked against the trunk or upper left thigh.

The mechanics and geometry are such that it would be the radial artery that would, I believe, be cut, not the ulnar.

b) Left arm braced against the left upper chest - This could give good leverage if the thumb side of the forearm was braced against the chest. However that position would result in the medial (little finger) side of the wrist being incised (and probably deeply incised). Dr. Hunt's report indicates or implies that the medial side of the wrist was not incised.

The absence of wounds on the medial side of the wrist leads me to conclude that any incisions were not made in this way.

Further, if the wounds were made using this bracing position then arterial rain over the face and upper chest would, I suggest, be expected. No such arterial rain is described in the oral evidence to the Hutton Inquiry.

c) Left arm braced across the right knee -

The third bracing position that seems to be possible is placement of the left wrist, palm upwards, on or close to the right knee. To make any incision the left wrist needs, I think, to be a little lateral to the right knee. In other words the lower left forearm is likely to be braced on the lower front part of the right thigh.

Using this bracing position can explain the tendency for the wound to extend on to the lateral aspect of the wrist but, to my mind at least, the transection of the ulnar artery is inexplicable.

Further, if this bracing position was used then arterial rain should have been observed to the right of the body. No such evidence of arterial rain was expressed in oral evidence to the Hutton Inquiry.

d) Left arm braced on upper left thigh

This position, too, is problematic in my view.

Attempting to incise the wrist is possible but incising the ulnar artery seems to me not to be a credible result.

In addition, if the ulnar artery had been transected in this position arterial rain would have been expected on the abdominal area of the clothing and large blood stains would be expected on the upper left thigh of the jeans.

2. Can a knife of the type indicated by sharpened sufficiently?

The knife found beside the body on Harrowdown Hill was, supposedly, identified as one which David Kelly had owned since childhood.

I do not propose to explore the questionable identification evidence for the knife here since I did so in another submission to the Attorney General.

What I wish to explore is whether or not a knife of the type described can be sharpened sufficiently to produce an edge capable of cutting human skin in the manner hypothesised.

The blade was stated to be curved.

The knife was some 50 years old, if the official narrative is to be believed.

I would suggest that such a knife would, in day to day use over some 50 years, have required sharpening several times.

Given the curved nature of the blade it would be difficult, and perhaps impossible. to achieve a sufficiently sharp edge near the tip of the blade credibly to incise human skin.

It would, however, be credible to achieve a very sharp edge on the straight part of the blade.

No evidence was presented to the Hutton Inquiry as to whether the knife was sufficiently sharp in any part of its length to incise human skin.

The absence of exploration of that question at the Hutton Inquiry is, in my view, "insufficiency of inquiry".

3. Can a knife of the type indicated produce the wounds described?

The seeming shape of the knife also raises serious questions about whether it could have been used to inflict the described wounds.

In any of the bracing positions mentioned above, I cannot identify a means to transect the ulnar artery by means of a self-inflicted wound using a knife of the described shape and consequent sharpening characteristics.

In other words, I conclude that the knife allegedly found at the scene is highly unlikely to have been capable of producing the described wounds in any circumstances.

Again, Hutton failed to ask such a key question. Further evidence of "insufficiency of inquiry", in my view.

4. Can such a knife produce the wounds in the applicable circumstances?

Quite simply, I consider that it is highly unlikely that the knife described could produce the described wounds by self-harm in the environment described at Harrowdown Hill.

When, for example, a bracing position is credible in relation to part of the evidence then it fails to fit with other parts of what would have happened if the "suicide hypothesis" were the true explanation of events e.g. arterial rain is absent.

Since the question was not asked by Hutton, I think the need to explore such fundamental questions is a further reason that an inquest is essential.

5. Was David Kelly capable of using the knife in such a way?

The preceding points of doubt relate to an averagely strong male of Dr. Kelly's age with full physical capacity of his right arm.

As mentioned in other emails there is prima facie evidence of some degree of limitation of functionality of Dr. Kelly's right arm likely resulting from an apparent old injury / operation to the right elbow. If it is true that Dr. Kelly had difficulty cutting steak then the question of whether it is conceivable that he was capable of incising skin with a 50 year old knife merits careful scrutiny.

In those circumstances the attribution of the described wounds to "self harm" is rendered even more implausible.

Again, Hutton failed to explore this key question. In my view, further evidence of insufficiency of inquiry.

6. Is Dr. Hunt's description of the wounds simply wrong?

I have read many times Dr. Hunt's description, quoted in the early part of this email, of the wounds on David Kelly's left wrist.

To my mind, that description doesn't add up when considered carefully.

The wounds run "across the front of the left wrist and slightly onto the thumb side of that wrist". That doesn't add up with the "suicide hypothesis" in my view where the assumed major blood loss comes from transection of the ulnar artery.

Nor can I see a way in which, given the other considerations mentioned earlier, it is possible to transect the ulnar artery with the knife described without inflicting significant damage on the medial (little finger) side of the wrist. But Dr. Hunt indicates or implies that such damage was absent on the medial side of the wrist.

Further, given the shape of the knife I have great difficulty in associating the quoted description with the seeming absence of damage to the radial artery.

The description just doesn't add up, in my view.

Perhaps Dr. Hunt mixed up medial and lateral or radial and ulnar in his description just as he appears to have confused the right and left lungs in his postmortem report (the weights appear to have been reversed).

It is insufficient to loosely ask a question of whether someone can cut their wrist, as Hutton seemed to do. The question that needed to be asked is whether David Kelly could credibly have incised his own wrist in all the prevailing circumstances.

7. Is there a "better fit" explanation for the wounds described?

Perhaps Dr. Hunt's description is merely poorly expressed. There is evidence that he struggles finding appropriate words. For example, in his narrative he uses "outer edge" when he means either "upper edge" or "outer end".

However, if one assumes that Dr. Hunt's description of the wounds is accurate then the most important wound is explicable .... IF one assumes the presence of a second party with a sharp pointed knife with a very sharp blade. Such a knife would be a Stanley knife.

That would allow access to the ulnar artery without inflicting skin wounds on the medial (little finger) side of the wrist. The sharp point of a Stanley knife (or similar pointed, very sharp blade) could go deep without encroaching on the medial side of the wrist.

But such an interpretation of how the described wounds were made is wholly inconsistent with the "suicide hypothesis".


1. The described wounds are not, in my view, credible in the context of the "suicide hypothesis" given all the technical issues mentioned in this email. At a minimum they have not been demonstrated to be credible, far less to the degree required to justify a suicide verdict at an inquest.

2. There was insufficiency of inquiry into these foundational issues.

3. The wounds described are suggestive of the involvement of a second party using a pointed, sharp-bladed knife such as a Stanley knife. In all likelihood the second party knelt at the side of the body to incise the wrist (assuming the wounds were made at Harrowdown Hill, which is unknown).

I would be grateful if you would confirm receipt of this email and confirm that the information contained in it will be drawn to the attention of the Attorney General.

Given the technical nature of the content I would be grateful if you would further confirm that a forensic pathologist and other forensic experts will be asked to review the evidence relating to this matter.

Thank you.

(Dr) Andrew Watt


  1. It seems to me that either Dr Hunt was "assisted" by others in coming to his conclusion of suicide or that his thoughts on the incisions to the left wrist were of a most cursory kind.

    But of course it wasn't just Dr Hunt's conclusions that merit criticism but the fact that Lord Hutton failed to make any objective analysis of them. The forensic pathologist has spoken, therefore what he has said is right.

    It would seem, although we haven't had sight of his original report, that Dr Hunt had decided by 19th July if not earlier that Dr Kelly had committed suicide. This then before Mr Green's 50 or so tests had been carried out and, it appears, the lack of fingerprints became apparent.

    I can only conclude that Dr Hunt was being dishonest or was totally incompetent. On the basis of what Andrew has provided in analysis in this post and previously it is abundantly clear that the suicide conclusion is not a safe one.

  2. A blogger A Day in Paradise put it very nicely and succinctly on 29 Jan 2004:
    "One thing I had a hard time with was [Lord Hutton's] “There was no third party involved with Dr. Kelly’s suicide” statement. What we wanted to know was if there was a second party involved???"

    My own personal feeling is that a second party was involved in the death of Dr Kelly and that Nicholas Hunt was leaned on by a third party in this curious case.

  3. A blogger A Day in Paradise on 29 Jan 2004 asked the following pertinent question under the heading
    Hutton Reports “No Third Party Involved in Kelly Suicide”
    Britain: Hutton inquiry whitewashes Blair government over Iraq war

    However, much Lord Hutton paid, it was money WELL spent… not that anyone really believes that the BBC is evil and the Government/MoD are blameless.

    One thing I had a hard time with was his “There was no third party involved with Dr. Kelly’s suicide” statement. What we wanted to know was if there was a second party involved???