For some time now I've been carefully thinking about whether the "pruning knife" found at Harrowdown Hill could produce the wrist wounds and other forensic evidence described in Dr. Nicholas Hunt's postmortem report.
My conclusion, thus far, is that it isn't possible for David Kelly to have produced the wounds himself with that knife while he was alive.
If it's not possible in principle for it to have happened then I conclude that it didn't happen.
If David Kelly didn't produce the wounds then someone else did. In other words, David Kelly was murdered.
The "Harrowdown Hill Challenge" is intended to be posed publicly to the forensic pathology community of the United Kingdom, not least to the forensic pathologist from whom the Attorney General is seeking expert opinion.
If nobody in the United Kingdom's forensic pathology community can demonstrate that the pruning knife could produce the forensic evidence that is on record then Lord Hutton's "suicide hypothesis" is in very deep trouble on that ground alone.
However, the challenge is intended to elicit interest in a wider community. It is a "who dunnit" but with a very serious, real-life foundation.
So, if I can draft it well, I'm hoping that afficianados of detective fiction will also have a go at solving the "Harrowdown Hill Challenge".
Perhaps I've missed an "obvious" (or least a credible) solution. If so, then identifying such a solution will help to clarify how David Kelly might have died. That would be helpful in establishing the truth of what happened.
Comments on the idea and a first draft of the possible text of the "challenge" (set out below) are welcome.
The Harrowdown Hill Challenge
The purpose of this document is to ask a very serious question, "Is it possible that Dr. David Kelly killed himself with a pruning knife at Harrowdown Hill, Oxfordshire on 17th July 2003 to produce the publicly documented wounds and other forensic evidence?".
If it's not "possible in principle" for David Kelly to have killed himself in such a way then, it seems to me, that the inescapable conclusion is that he was murdered.
That serious question is posed in an unusual way - as an open challenge to the forensic pathology professionals of the United Kingdom. Interested amateurs, whether they are individuals concerned that David Kelly was murdered or afficianados of detective fiction, are also invited to look for a solution.
The remarkably inactive detectives of Thames Valley Police are also invited to participate. Eight years late is better than nothing!
The Parameters of the Challenge
The Harrowdown Hill Challenge assumes the following scenario to be the case:
1. A middle-aged man with suicidal intent is in the middle of woodland in Oxfordshire.
2. No tables or other props are available to stabilise the left wrist.
3. The only weapon available is a pruning knive (somewhat curved blade) assumed to be around 40-50 years old.
So far, so simple. Seemingly.
The Demanded Results
In his report of the Hutton Inquiry, Lord Hutton concluded that David Kelly had killed himself in woodland using the pruning knife by incising his left wrist.
The Hutton Report is online here: Hutton Inquiry - Report by Lord Hutton.
Lord Hutton summarised the "facts" here: The Facts. See numbered paragraph 14.
Lord Hutton's more detailed account of the supposed suicide is here: The cause of the death of Dr Kelly. See numbered paragraph 157.
Lord Hutton had available the forensic evidence that I'll list in the next section.
To achieve a "solution" to the Harrowdown Hill Challenge you need to be able to demonstrate how a middle-aged man could incise his own left wrist in the circumstances which applied and produce the forensic evidence documented at the Hutton Inquiry and, subsequently, in the postmortem report released on 22nd October 2010.
The Forensic Evidence
There are, I believe, two important elements to the forensic evidence:
1. The wounds described in his postmortem report by Dr. Nicholas Hunt
2. The distribution of blood on Dr. Kelly's clothing and skin
With regard to the wounds I see the following as key.
1. The ulnar artery was transected.
2. No wound extended on to the ulnar (little finger) side of the wrist.
3. There was no "arterial rain" or bloodstains on the lateral side (outside) of the thigh of Dr. Kelly's jeans.
4. There was no "arterial rain" or bloodstains on the upper surface of the thigh of Dr. Kelly's jeans.
5. There was no "arterial rain" on Dr. Kelly's face or neck.
6. There was no "arterial rain" or large bloodstains on the right thigh of Dr. Kelly's jeans.
The relevance of points 3. to 6. will be explained shortly.
However, the full evidence can be accessed online.
Dr. Hunt's postmortem report was released by the UK's Ministry of Justice on 22nd October 2010. The announcement of the release, Dr Kelly post mortem and toxicology reports,includes a link to the postmortem report, Post mortem of Dr David Christopher Kelly.
An OCR-derived text version of Dr. Hunt's report is easier to navigate. It's here: David Kelly: pathologist's report to the coroner - text version.
Dr. Hunt also gave oral testimony to the Hutton Inquiry on 16th September 2003. You have to scroll down the page linked to in order to find Dr. Hunt's testimony.
Other individuals who visited the scene and who gave evidence to the Hutton Inquiry were Louise Holmes, Paul Chapman, Vanessa Hunt, Dave Bartlett, DC Coe, PC Franklin and PC Sawyer. Their oral tesimony can be accessed from this page: Hutton Inquiry Web Site - Hearing Transcripts.
The Mechanics of Making the Incisions
There is no mention of any convenient waist-high table or tree stump in the evidence given to the Hutton Inquiry. The Challenge assumes that no such prop is available.
Without such a prop I suggest it's necessary to think about how the left wrist could have been braced to make it possible for deep wounds to have been made.
The solutions I've considered assume sitting with his back against a tree. I can identify three basic "bracing positions":
- Left wrist either adjacent to the left thigh or resting on the left thigh.
- Left wrist braced against the left side of the chest, with the left wrist close to the chin.
- Left wrist laid across the lower part of the right thigh
The Distribution of Blood on clothes and skin
The difficulty that I perceive is that if Dr. Kelly cut his own wrist then "arterial rain" and/or bloodstaining should be present at one or more of the locations listed in 3. to 6. above.
But there is no evidence of such arterial rain or bloodstaining.
So, it seems to me that there is an absence of forensic evidence where it ought to have been found.
The Nature of the Wounds
Having spent a considerable time thinking about the wounds, I can't see a way in which, in the circumstances which applied, Dr. Kelly could have cut his own wrist and produced those wounds.
I could explain that in detail but until such time as the absence of "arterial rain" and bloodstaining is explained there is, I think, no need to explore the lack of correspondence between the knife and the wounds.
My "solution", after several hours careful thinking about the problem, is that it has no solution, at least it has no solution in the sense of David Kelly having used the pruning knife to have killed himself.
My "solution" is that the knife was different from that found at the scene and that it was used by a third party.
The knife needed a sharp point to go deep enough to cut the ulnar artery without extending the wound on to the medial side of the left wrist.
A credible knife is a Stanley knife or similar sharp-pointed very sharp blade. No such knife was found at Harrowdown Hill.
The direction of cutting is from the ulnar (little finger) to the radial (thumb) side of the wrist. A direction of cutting very natural for someone to the left of Dr. Kelly (whether at Harrowdown Hill or at some other location).
In other words, having carefully looked at the scenario which Lord Hutton casually interpreted I conclude that David Kelly was murdered by person or persons unknown and that the murder weapon was either removed from the scene (or that the murder weapon had never been at the scene).
Send Solutions Here
Attempted solutions should be sent to Dr. Andrew Watt at this email address: AndrewWattChilcot@gmail.com.
I intend to post interesting solutions (even if they prove or suggest that my current opinion is incorrect) on my Chilcot's Cheating Us blog.