Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Death of David Kelly - "The Harrowdown Hill Challenge" (First Draft)

I'm posting for comment an idea that I'm calling "The Harrowdown Hill Challenge".

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":

  1. Left wrist either adjacent to the left thigh or resting on the left thigh.

  2. Left wrist braced against the left side of the chest, with the left wrist close to the chin.

  3. 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"

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:

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.


  1. Andrew

    If no 3rd persons were involved Dr Kelly had to be sitting approx 4 feet from a tree behind him, his legs outstretched in front of him (for someone suffering from a bad back as Dr Kelly was this is an extremely uncomfortable position to sit in.)

    Dr Kelly then leaned over to his left, hacked at his wrist several times until he felt he had done enough, then dropped the knife and then he sat upright again and then lay down or became unconscious and fell back.

    If Dr Kelly had become unconscious whilst he was in the process of cutting his wrist he would have collapsed over to his left and not be in the straight line, flat on his back where he was allegedly found.

    It would also have been impossible for Dr Kelly to place the props at the scene in their positions from his sitting or lying down position.

    Even if the knife found at the scene was a Stanley knife, Dr Kelly would not have been able to position the items around him without some help.

  2. LL,

    You're right that there are many more discrepancies in the evidence.

    BUT ... if nobody can demonstrate how you can use a pruning knife to produce the documented forensic evidence then, eventually, however much the "cover-up" goes to the very top, the official (Hutton) story will unravel.

    If nobody can demonstrate how David Kelly could produce the wounds and blood pattern (or lack of it) then the "suicide hypothesis" collapses.

  3. The blade's cutting edge was also, IIRC, concave - which might suggest that to reach a given internal point by slicing/sawing, the wound would have to extend even further on either side than if the blade were straight. (Schematic example - to reach the centre of a cylindrical object, the incision would have to extend more than half way around the surface).

    I suppose the alternative is that the tip of the knife could have been used in box-cutting or gouging fashion, perhaps held with the blade extending downwards from the back of the hand.

    I don't know how plausible this is - probably not very, since the blade is not stubby as a Stanley is (and . I think people tend not to have a very clear idea of how hard it is to cut (uncooked) flesh, especially when you don't have a freshly sharpened Sabatier. This would not of course explain the lack of spray.

    Another thing - is it possible that he could have cut his wrist elsewhere before arriving at the place(s) where the body was found? I assume the spray/droplets on nearby leaves were taken as indicating otherwise, and of course the forensics would be exposed as hopelessly flawed if they had missed a trail of blood leading from elewhere, but still thought I'd mention it as you will need to cover all the angles for a deductive (impossibility, Holmesian) proof.

    If he did stagger there from elsewhere, that would provide the only innocent explanation for the abrasions (and perhaps the bruising) observed, flippantly dismissed at the Hutton job as caused by 'thrashing around in the undergrowth, if you like', rather than, say, any kind of struggle. Because there wasn't any evidence of a struggle, as we were informed.

    (The underlying, er, logic looks to me like 'read-ahead': since it would just be too far-fetched for a violent-death investigator to suppose that there could have been a struggle, anything that looks like evidence of one can't really be, of course.)

    BTW talking of Holmes, this is an engaging site about the Gareth Williams 'suicide', with lots of info (the inferences as always to be assessed critically).

  4. Thanks for the GW link, Tim. I hadn't spotted that one. The parallel with Kelly is that the Inquest into Williams has for the time being been kicked into the very deep rough though on spurious grounds as noted in the same blog and as simultaneously reported without any comment or deeper inqury by the supine mainstream media.

  5. Tim,

    You're right about (at least part of) the blade (probably) being concave.

    I've done a little research about the shape of pruning knife blades and they vary quite a bit in terms of how much of the cutting edge is concave and how pointed/hooked the end of the blade is.

    Not all pruning knives are, however, concave. See, for example, this knife: Sandvik-Bahco All Purpose Knife.

    Without seeing the knife found at Harrowdown Hill there is some residual uncertainty about the shape of "the knife" and whether "the knife" could actually have made the wounds. But for a "typical" shape pruning knife it seems to me that there is a significant mismatch between the knife and the wounds.

    That mismatch exists even putting aside, for the moment, the question about whether a 40 or 50 year old knife could be sharpened properly, David Kelly's inability to sharpen his knife (according to Mai Pederson) and his limitations in cutting steak (again according to Mai Pederson).

    Needless to say the Hutton Inquiry didn't even ask the question of whether the knife could have made the wounds.

  6. Tim,

    The box-cutting or gouging use of a knife depends on the sharpness of the point, I think. If the point isn't sharp enough it would be very difficult to make a deep enough wound/hole.

    Also it would tend potentially to leave a very ragged wound at various levels of the wound.

    There is nothing in the description of the wounds in the postmortem report that leads me to conclude that the box-cutting approach applied. But, ideally, one would want to see the photographs of the wounds to completely exclude that possibility.

  7. Tim,

    One can't completely exclude the possibility that David Kelly made the initial wounds elsewhere. (Nor can one completely exclude the possibility that a second party made the wounds elsewhere.)

    As you imply that would indicate inadequacy of the forensic examination.

    No evidence was put forward at the Hutton Inquiry even hinting at his having made the wounds at another location, so far as I recall.

  8. For what it's worth, putting all the various verbal descriptions together that were given to Hutton, I think the following knife is the most likely candidate for being (or being very similar to) "the knife".

    It's the Sandvik-Bahco General Purpose knife: Bahco K-Gp-1 Pruning Knife and Sandvik-Bahco General Purpose Knife.

    What that supposition is correct or not has yet to be confirmed.

    Another thing that also has to be confirmed is whether that model (or similar) knife would have been available in the 1950s (when David Kelly was a boy scout).