Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Death of David Kelly - The limitations of Professor Hawton's expertise and the limitations of its relevance

The Hutton Report relied heavily on the evidence of Professor Keith Hawton.

Hawton is assumed to be an "expert".

But, so far as I'm aware, nobody at the Hutton Inquiry or in Thames Valley Police or in the Attorney General's Office has seriously explored the scope and limitations of Professor Hawton's expertise.

Nor has any of those organisations recognised the limitations of the relevance of any expertise that Professor Hawton may be deemed to have.

The pivotal question regarding the death of Dr. David Kelly, in my view, is whether he took his own life or whether he was murdered and the murder was made to look like suicide.

And it is in distinguishing those two possibilities that the limitations of Professor Hawton's expertise become clear.

Does Professor Hawton have any expertise in distinguishing suicide from murder dressed up as suicide?

So far as I'm aware Professor Hawton has no such expertise.

On the contrary his longstanding expertise in suicide is likely to make him less able to recognise something that doesn't fit. As someone who has focussed on suicide for years, there is a bias likely to operate which recognises what seems to be a familiar pattern. See Cognitive bias for a general discussion of the kinds of biases that may have been operative in Professor Hawton's mind.

Suppose that Professor Hawton said that Dr. Kelly's death didn't look much like suicide. In that hypothetical scenario any murder that might have been committed hadn't been well concealed.

In reality Professor Hawton made the following ridiculously over the top statement to Hutton:

15 A. I think that taking all the evidence together, it is
16 well nigh certain that he committed suicide.

See page 107 of Professor Hawton's oral evidence given on the afternoon of Tuesday 2nd September 2003.

Does it definitively distinguish between suicide and murder dressed up as suicide?

It doesn't.

It simply tells us that if the death of Dr. Kelly was murder dressed up as suicide then, if Professor Hawton's opinion is reliable (which I doubt), then the murder was quite well dressed up as suicide.

It is of no help in distinguishing whether Dr. Kelly's death was suicide or murder.

If I'm correct in that conclusion, one wonders why the "great minds" (sic) of Thames Valley Police, the Hutton Inquiry and the Attorney General's Office didn't see that.

Perhaps it was a case of the old Scottish proverb. An anglicised version is, "There is nobody so blind as the one who chooses not to see.".

In an upcoming post I hope intelligently to consider what questions ought to be asked (and ought to have been asked) to enable suicide to be distinguished from murder dressed up as suicide.

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