Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Death of David Kelly - "The Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)"

I'm posting as a public challenge to those who claim that David Kelly committed suicide what I'm calling "The Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)".

The document, which is included as the final part of this post, is a slightly modified version of the draft I posted online for comment on 28th May: The Death of David Kelly - "The Harrowdown Hill Challenge" (First Draft).

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 and in the oral testimony given by Dr. Hunt, Mr. Green (forensic biologist) and others.

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. The "Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)" addresses one aspect of the forensic evidence that led me to that conclusion - the distribution of blood on Dr. Kelly's clothing.

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 himself then someone else did. In other words, David Kelly was murdered.

The "Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)" is intended to be posed publicly to the forensic pathology and forensic science communities 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 and forensic science communities 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.

I'm hoping that afficianados of detective fiction will also have a go at solving the "Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)".

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. And, for me, it's finding the Truth about what happened to David Kelly that is most important in this.

Here it is - "The Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)". A copy of the Challenge in Word format is available, on request, from the email address given below.

The Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)

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 and forensic science professionals of the United Kingdom and elsewhere. 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 such 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.
4. The ulnar artery is transected with documented "arterial rain" on vegetation (nettles) to the left of the body.

So far, so simple. Seemingly.

The Demanded Results

It's simple show how someone could cut their own wrist with a pruning knife in the middle of a wood and produce the documented forensic evidence.

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

In this section I summarise what I see as some key points in the forensic evidence and then provide links to the original sources, for those who want to take up the challenge in a serious way.

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 and blood dstribution 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 the left side of Dr. Kelly's face, neck or upper chest.
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 which is linked to in order to find Dr. Hunt's testimony.

Other individuals who visited the scene and who gave oral evidence to the Hutton Inquiry were Mr. Roy Green (forensic biologist), 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 left side of the chin.

  3. Left wrist laid across the lower part of the right thigh

I have excluded the possibility of the left forearm having been braced against the trunk of a tree while Dr. Kelly was standing. The forensic biology evidence is that the arterial rain (if such it was) was at a height of around 30cm i.e. the left wrist was at or close to ground level.

The Distribution of Blood on clothes and skin

The arterial rain documented on the nettles suggests a spurting fountain of blood from a transected artery. But that would start when the relevant incision was made, when the wrist was braced close to the body.

Additionally, given that there were multiple wrist wounds, blood would be seeping from those while the cut which, supposedly, transected the ulnar artery was made. And that blood ought to have been detectable on his clothes.

The difficulty that I perceive for the "suicide hypothesis" 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.

It is fairly easy for a hypothetical "Scene Setter" to create the illusion of suicide by leaving a knife at the scene and splashing some blood around. Where, in my view, the Scene Setter made a mistake is to fail to put blood in the necessary place(s).

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 in detail the lack of correspondence between the knife and the wounds.

Nor is there a need in this Level 1 Challenge to require that the absence of fingerprints on the knife be addressed at this stage.

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.

In other words the only "solution" that I can identify is that David Kelly was murdered by person or persons unknown.

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) but unnatural for David Kelly. There is a good reason why the radial artery is the wrist artery normally cut - it's more accessible and cutting it is much more natural.

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.

I'll also post atttempted solutions which might at first glance seem reasonable but which fail on some point of detail with regard to the forensic evidence.

If anyone does succeed in finding a solution to "The Harrowdown Hill Challenge (Level 1)" then I'll make it a little harder by asking serious questions about the shape and sharpness of the pruning knife, the absence of fingerprints on the knife and the possible functional limitations of Dr. Kelly's right arm.

For the moment, for the "suicide hypothesis" to be credible, it's first necessary for someone to demonstrate a solution to the simplified "Level 1" challenge.


  1. This challenge really is so important! I very much hope that experts in forensics will give it a go. If nobody can give a persuasive solution then the suicide hypothesis is buried in my opinion.

    So what of Dr Hunt? Did he really consider whether the fatal wounds (if they were such) were possible with that knife? There is no mention whatsoever by either he or ACC Page that any consideration had been made of the possibility of "murder dressed up as suicide".

    It would seem that nether Dr Hunt nor the police made any sort of assessment of whether THAT knife could have caused THOSE wounds. They see a knife close to the body with what appears to be blood on it and jump to the conclusion that this was the blade that caused the incisions.

    It is an appallingly poor level of investigation.

  2. Thanks, Brian.

    Yes, I agree that the seeming failure to give any thought to the possibility of murder dressed up as suicide is a fundamental failing of the approach of Dr. Nicholas Hunt.

    Surely, before jumping to a conclusion of self-inflicted injury Dr. Hunt should have taken steps to ascertain whether the knife was capable of inflicting the observed wounds, whether the forensic evidence was consistent with self-harm (the Harrowdown Hill Challenge challenges that view) and, not least, whether there were any fingerprints on the knife.

    It seems to me that if the Attorney General, directly or indirectly, triggers a new (and honest) Police investigation then Dr. Hunt may find himself in a very difficult position.

    That, of course, does not exclude the possibility of an investigation of Dr. Hunt's conduct by the General Medical Council.