Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Death of David Kelly - An experiment with nettles and brambles

In Mr. Green's report, Roy Green forensic statement 27 September 2003, which was recently made public by the Attorney General's Office mention was made of the body at Harrowdown Hill lying in nettles and brambles.

In my preceding post, The Death of David Kelly - Were "third parties" present?, the question of evidence regarding the presence or otherwise of so-called third parties was discussed.

I've carried out a small experiment to explore how "obvious" any previous stepping on nettles and brambles in a woodland setting might be.

The short answer is that it is possible to walk across nettles and brambles and leave essentially no trace at all.

Why is that?

With respect to brambles the stems are often sloping at an angle. If you stand on such a stem then it lowers to ground level while it is being stood on. However, almost instantly it springs back to a position similar to that in which it was before it was stepped on.

Yes, the stem may be 10cm above the ground immediately after it had been stood on when it had been, say, 15cm above the ground before it was stood on. But within a couple of seconds it is generally impossible in my view to detect that a bramble stem or stems has been stepped on.

In the woodland setting that I experimented with, nettle stems were also frequently at an angle rather than standing vertically. I assume that this is because the nettles were etiolated (being shaded by nearby or overhanging trees).

The behaviour of nettles is similar to brambles. Step on a sloping stem and it springs back almost instantly - with the exception that if you stand on the bottom, say, 5cm of the stem it may snap and lie horizontal to the ground.

In my experiment it is much tougher to detect that brambles and nettles had been stood on, even seconds before, than Dr. Hunt and the Attorney General appear to assume.

I conclude that statements to the effect that was on "obvious trampling" are essentially valueless.


  1. A very interesting experiment Andrew! I think that nature is extremely resilient. Certainly in my experience you would have to beat down brambles and nettles with a stick to have any real effect on them.

    On pages 52 and 53 of his testimony PC Sawyer describes the area behind the body which he describes as zone 5 in the fingertip search: 'Zone 5 was the 10 metre radius round the back of the area where the body had been found, which was really dense brambles and overgrown trees'.

    Slightly later PC Sawyer says: 'Zone 5, which went round the back of the scene, was almost impenetrable and the searchers had a really hard job getting through the brambles and the undergrowth to check the ground'.

    Did they cut down the brambles to do the fingertip search in this area?

  2. Andrew,
    As Rowena perceptively wrote some years ago,the alleged nettles were a very important part of the fix:
    "Was arterial rain on the nettles the key piece of 'evidence' that would supposedly convince the public Dr Kelly had died from his own hand? In fact it does the opposite: the fact that the arterial rain was found on the nettles and not on the body may be one of the strongest indications we have that Dr Kelly did not die by his own hand."

    They can't have it both ways - nettles which allegedly show blood spurting, providing some kind of undisturbed green cradle of vegetation, ready for Mr Green and his entourage to investigate after the blue scene tent has been erected over the body but which are not trampled by the army of named and unnamed attendees at the scene. Who erected the scene tent? And when? The Thames Valley Police won't say. Why?

    Mr Green at the Hutton Inquiry asks to read from his notes. He is asked when he received a phone call on 18 July 2003. He says twice "about dinner time" twice. Is that what was written in his prepared notes?

  3. Felix,

    Rowena made a very powerful point.

    It is, at a minimum, unnatural to attempt to cut the ulnar artery lying on your left side on the ground. Arguably, it is impractical.

    Try it (using a blunt object).

    For someone with a (partly) disabled right arm it is arguably impossible.

  4. I omitted to mention in the post that I also repeated the observations on the behaviour of grass that I conducted a few months back. See The Death of David Kelly - A tiny experiment in the woods.

    Essentially, high summer grass behaved in the same way as that in the original experiment.

  5. I have been trying to fathom why Messrs Green and Hunt and Eileen Hickey were kept away from the body until gone 2pm. Mr Green did not eleaborate on the time he was called,other than around dinner time
    Dr Hunt watched a video,apparently (and could have fitted in a full feature film in the time) yet the forensic scientists did not benefit from the video.

    Was the purpose of these delaying tactics to keep Hunt, Green and Hickey away from the body for an hour and a half or so? What might the purpose of that have been?