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The violent innocence of conspiracy theorists: a reply to Peter Oborne

David Aaronovitch responds to Peter Oborne‘s criticism of his 'disingenuous' book review on the death of David Kelly.

David Aaronovitch
8 May 2018
Lord Hutton announcing the results of his inquiry into the events surrounding the death of Government scientist Dr David Kelly,

Lord Hutton announcing the results of his inquiry into the events surrounding the death of Government scientist Dr David Kelly, 2004. Image: PA/PA Archive/PA Images.

My friend, the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, once wrote about a quality he called “violent innocence”. This, essentially, is when someone denies their own internal violence by posing as an innocent victim and projecting their aggression onto someone designated as an enemy.  

In his openDemocracy attack on my recent Times review of Miles Goslett’s book An Inconvenient Death: How the Establishment Covered Up the David Kelly Affair, Peter Oborne accuses me of multiple crimes, including of indulging in “vulgar abuse”, of being “snide and dishonest” and “malicious” and of being “an expert on sneering” – whatever that is. He then appears to suggest that this review makes me unfit to be chair of the free speech and expression advocacy group, Index on Censorship (in which capacity, incidentally, Oborne sought and received my assistance a few months ago).

Towards the end of his tirade Oborne characterises my review as an embodiment of “a new and disturbing coarseness” in public debate and a “collapse into insult and caricature”, in which others fail to listen to the point of view of others.

In this reply to Oborne’s polemic, my main point is that in fact he represents almost the purest “violent innocence”. It is his willingness to promote arguments that, in effect, accuse British public servants, politicians he doesn’t like and even bereaved family members, of criminal collusion in covering up murders or deaths under interrogation that never happened, that is the real “new and disturbing coarseness”. Anyone doubting this should spend a week watching the RT channel or reading Donald Trump’s tweets. 

But first, since it was viewable only to subscribers or those leaving an email address and therefore not available to Oborne’s readers on a hyperlink, here is the full review, my apologies: 

In 2007 the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes at the time, Norman Baker, published a book called The Strange Death of David Kelly. Dr Kelly was the government weapons inspector who was outed in July 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, as the source for a sensational BBC report claiming that the government of Tony Blair had “sexed-up” a dossier on the threat posed by the Iraqi regime. Shortly after giving possibly misleading evidence to a parliamentary committee, he was found dead in woods near his Oxfordshire home.

 

Baker’s book followed a campaign by a small group of doctors, some retired, who argued that the cause of death accepted by the Hutton inquiry, which reported in early 2004, was not feasible. The most favourable soil for Baker’s alarming contention was not, as might be supposed, on the anti-war left, but on the anti-Blair right. Tory sympathisers who believed that Blair was almost single-handedly responsible for the moral degeneration of Britain were particularly susceptible. Writers for the Daily Mail were especially impressed.

 

The problem, as a BBC Two documentary and (I believe) my 2009 book on conspiracy theories showed, was that Baker’s thesis was refutable at almost every point, sometimes almost comically. And we refuted it. We pointed, for example, to the weight of expert evidence confirming the verdict of suicide delivered by the Hutton inquiry, including the judgments of the presidents of the British Association in Forensic Medicine and of the Forensic Science Society — both, unlike surgeons, experts in how people die.

 

In the end we were left with a book whose author preferred to believe not that a man in a fix was prepared take his own life, but as I wrote at the time, killers “who were never seen or identified . . . killed a British subject and government employee who had already spoken to the press and who was at the epicentre of British media attention, and that this operation was covered up by a combination of the Oxfordshire police, the Oxfordshire coroner, those working for the Hutton inquiry and — quite possibly — Lord Hutton and [Kelly’s wife] Janice Kelly herself”.

 

For the most part the Kelly theory became a tinfoil hat wearer’s pursuit. There was the small group of doctors, another small group of conspiracy-twitchers and the occasional foray by the Daily Mail every time these people issued a new demand for a full inquest. In 2010 this desultory campaign succeeded in persuading the former Tory leader Michael Howard to support their call. A year later the Conservative attorney-general, Dominic Grieve, reviewed the case. He concluded that “the evidence that Dr Kelly took his own life is overwhelmingly strong. Further, there is nothing I have seen that supports any allegation that Dr Kelly was murdered or that his death was the subject of any kind of conspiracy or cover-up.”

 

So how does this book by Miles Goslett, a former Mail journalist essentially making the same accusations as did Baker, deal with the refutations, the forensic and other evidence subsequently published? By blithely ignoring it all, every bit.

 

Goslett works on the same erroneous “it was physically impossible” basis and branches out from there. He has the same need to undermine the inconvenient testimony of Kelly’s wife that her husband was extremely depressed before he died, and the same need to deploy any suggestion made by anyone else at the time that Kelly was coping well with his sudden, unwanted and career-threatening celebrity.

 

So what does Goslett have that is new? His contention is that Blair moved suspiciously quickly, once he knew of Kelly’s death, to call an inquiry into a suicide that he couldn’t be sure was a suicide. Why, asks Goslett, did Blair not also consider the possibility that Kelly had “been the victim of a random assault by a psychopath”? Answers, as they say, on a postcard.

 

But what is Goslett’s new evidence? There are essentially four pieces of new material in the book. One concerns the day, a week before the death, that the Kellys fled to Cornwall to escape the media. Mrs Kelly said it was the evening of July 10, cribbage players in Dr Kelly’s local pub said he was with them until late. What is the significance of this discrepancy? Goslett doesn’t say, except to condemn Hutton for not having paid it attention.

 

Second is a letter in 2004 from Mrs Kelly to a Rowena Thursby, the unofficial coordinator of a “Kelly was murdered” conspiracy group, saying that she believed her husband took his own life. Goslett contrives to find this letter odd.

 

Third is the strange case of Dr Kelly’s dental records that his dentist looked for in the wake of his death (remembering, apparently, “that Dr Kelly was due for his six-month check-up shortly”), but could not find, yet which supposedly turned up again in the right place two days later. If Goslett can think of a reason why the dental records should have been purloined, he doesn’t say what it is. Online conspiracists are less coy, arguing that Kelly’s was not the body found in Oxfordshire, so the impostor corpse’s dental records were substituted for the real ones.

 

Goslett is not as reckless as Baker. Maybe, he concludes, Kelly was murdered, maybe he died of natural causes under interrogation, “or he did not die at all but was ‘disappeared’. But it is not the aim of this book, however, to back one of these theories.” Wise, I’d say.

 

It stinks, really, does this waste of publisher’s, purchaser’s and reviewer’s time and money. Let me explain why. In his introduction Goslett gives the inception moment of the book as November 5, 2014 — “I heard that a senior civil servant working in the Ministry of Justice had written an extraordinary letter to a man called Gerrard Jonas, a garage owner from Oxfordshire, urging him to stay away from Dr Kelly’s grave.” It seemed “odd” to Goslett that a civil servant should be taking such an interest. Suspicious even. Shortly afterwards the body was exhumed and the grave moved.

 

If Goslett weren’t so blinded by his desire to get another publication and another payday out of the Kelly affair, he’d see it as clearly as most readers probably do. Jonas, a member of a conspiracist group, had been regularly visiting the grave, and he (or others) had been leaving placards and flowers there. In other words, he’d been an upsetting nuisance to the Kelly family. Most of the sinister “cover-up” Goslett attributes to Lord Hutton is fairly obviously the actions of a man determined to spare the Kelly family any additional hurt.

 

But from the Sandy Hook school massacre to 7/7 in Britain, some of those who believe, against evidence and common sense, that there is a deep conspiracy at work cannot leave the families alone. The families’ testimony must also be discredited, they too must be in on the plot. So the conspiracists read stupid books like this one, written and endorsed by intelligent people, and feel vindicated.

Once again I apologise for occupying so much space with the original, but it would be hard for anyone not having read it to evaluate Oborne’s response. And there was much that I had to leave out of the review for reasons of space, including an exquisitely daft passage from Goslett about how peculiar it was that a man taking a brief walk in a rural area on a Thursday afternoon wasn’t seen by anyone after the last person to see him saw him. As I wrote in 2009 in my book Voodoo Histories concerning conspiracist methodology, an important part of it is to normalise the abnormal and abnormalise the normal. 

Another common trait that I wrote about was the “just saying” or “disturbing questions” trope. By raising often ingenious, complex (and almost invariably wrong) objections the author seeks to discredit an “official version” and pave the way in the reader’s mind to a vanishingly more improbable set of possibilities, none of which the author quite endorses. Not me, guv, I was just saying. 

Head of Zeus are, as Oborne explains, his publishers, the commissioning editor, Neil Belton is a personal friend, and it seems likely that Oborne recommended the Goslett project in the first place. He provided blurb for the cover and it seems safe to presume that he read the book in advance of publication. So when he writes that “David Aaronovitch… describes a book that doesn’t actually exist and nobody, least of all Goslett, has actually written”, he doesn’t do so in ignorance of its contents. In attacking the book for its conspiracism I have, he says, erected an “Aunt Sally” and am a terrible person for having done so. 

It’s not about conspiracy he insists, it’s about process. Because the Hutton Inquiry took on the job of the coroner’s court in assessing the cause of death there wasn’t a separate inquest. And what I failed to tell my readers, Oborne suggests, is that actually Goslett’s book is all about that violated process. Goslett “convincingly shows (that the Hutton Inquiry) failed to call the right witnesses, or ask the right questions. As a result there remain a number of unanswered questions about the death of David Kelly which Lord Hutton ought to have addressed, but didn’t. Aaronovitch’s hatchet job disgracefully does not even give Times readers a hint of this crucial context.”

Crucial, schmucial. Who on Earth, other than a legal publisher, would put out a book that was concerned mainly or solely with whether the best procedure had been followed in a case of suicide from fifteen years before? Oborne’s formulation here is manifestly dishonest. The entire point of Goslett’s book is to argue that there was a “cover-up” – a conspiracy to hide the real cause of David Kelly’s death. Involved in that conspiracy would have to be, at a minimum, the Prime Minister, Lord Falconer, Lord Hutton and his team, the Thames Valley police, the Oxfordshire coroner, shadowy persons unknown and Dr Kelly’s wife, Janice herself. 

The publishers themselves, in their publicity for Goslett’s book, wrote, “the circumstances of (Dr Kelly’s) death are replete with disquieting questions – every detail, from his motives to the method of his death, his body’s discovery and the way in which the state investigated his demise, seems on close examination not to make sense.” Only the last item on that list is a process question. 

If that wasn’t apparent to Oborne, it was clear to his co-blurbee, Richard Ingrams. His words are on the book’s cover: “Everyone from Tony Blair downwards was insistent that Dr Kelly had committed suicide yet the evidence, which Goslett examines in scrupulous detail in this gripping narrative, suggests otherwise”. Ingrams is not writing about a book on inquests, but about a book he thinks is saying that there was a huge conspiracy and a cover-up. 

On April 26 last Goslett appeared on the George Galloway show on Talk Radio and told his host that “it is inconceivable to my mind that David Kelly took his own life,” adding, “I do not go any further than that because I don’t believe there’s any use in my advancing a personal theory….”.

I said in my review that this caution was wise. For a start it enables the “just saying” defence in which the just-sayer is not forced to confront the logic of their own arguments. Because if Dr Kelly didn’t commit suicide, then there are only three alternatives. The first is that he still alive and that someone else’s body was “discovered”, autopsied and buried. Then – 14 years later – exhumed, presumably and as Goslett insinuates, when the trail got too hot (at which point add the Diocese of Oxford to the possible list of cospirators). Hence the affair of the “missing” dental records. The second is that he died of natural causes but that so embarrassing were the circumstances for the authorities that it was dressed up to look like suicide instead. As I pointed out, there are Kelly Campaign websites who argue that it was an interrogation gone wrong. And third, there’s plain old murder. Someone abducted or followed David Kelly (strangely unseen by all those thousands of villagers Goslett believes to have been milling round on a Thursday afternoon), killed him by some hard-to-spot method and then made it look like suicide, but not expertly enough to fool Goslett, Norman Baker and a handful of doctors, none of whom ever saw the body or were forensic pathologists. Would YOU – would Peter Oborne – want to have to defend one of these alternatives? 

Meanwhile, unaware that the book was mostly about process, the review in the Daily Mail on the April 26 was sub-headlined “Did the weapons expert really kill himself? Or did he have a heart attack under interrogation by our own secret service? Why, 15 years on we STILL don’t know the truth about David Kelly.” 

Norman Baker's book

We had been round these dreary houses before. As I wrote in the review, in 2007 Norman Baker MP published his book, in which the reasons given for not believing that Dr Kelly had committed suicide were much the same as those given in Goslett’s. Peter Oborne provided the blurb for that book too. I presume he also read an advance copy of Baker’s book. 

Before publication, on February 16, 2007, in the Daily Mail, under the headline “Is Norman Baker the greatest man in politics?” (the answer was apparently “yes”) Oborne concluded his eulogy with this: 

“Baker's latest campaign concerns the death of government scientist Dr David Kelly at the height of the row between the present administration and the BBC in the summer of 2003. Baker's forensic mind has already picked apart much of the evidence accepted far too readily by the partly discredited Hutton Inquiry.  He has identified key inconsistencies about the police investigation, arguing that it is incredibly unlikely that Dr Kelly did kill himself with his blunt gardening knife, as the official version has it.  It sounds a conspiracy too far – but Baker has a habit of being right.”  

Nine days later BBC2 showed a programme about the Kelly theories in its Conspiracy Files series. This programme not only included expert testimony from top toxicologists and forensic pathologists in support of the suicide verdict, it also showed that one of Baker’s main “murder” speculations came directly from meeting a known serial fantasist, who had lifted his thesis directly from a recent Tom Clancy novel. 

One person who seems not to have been watching that programme was Oborne’s then colleague on the Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips. On February 28, in a metaphor-rich piece headlined “The 'facts' about David Kelly's death just don't add up. This was murder...” she also praised Baker who “cannot easily be dismissed as a crank. He is an exceptionally tenacious digger into things others prefer to keep hidden, and has a fearsome track record of slamming politically devastating balls into the back of the net.” 

Then she added the alarming information that “Since these claims were made, I, too, have met people familiar with the shadowy world in which Dr Kelly moved who are certain he was murdered. They are adamant that suicide would have been completely out of character, that he was an outstanding patriot who had done much dangerous work for his country and that there was no shortage of foreign despots who might have wanted him done away with.”

On October 22, 2007 (guess where), Norman Baker himself had a piece publicising his book under the headline “Did two hired assassins snatch weapons inspector David Kelly?” Five days later in the Independent Richard Ingrams wrote that, “When Norman Baker told me recently of his conviction that David Kelly had been murdered, I paid attention”. 

Nor was Oborne’s (or indeed the Mail stable’s) praise for Baker and the book tempered by some of Baker’s exotic digressions. In his Kelly book Baker hinted that Robin Cook who died from a heart attack while out walking on a hill with his wife, might have been the victim of foul play, repeated a hoary old conspiracy theory about the Israelis deliberately sinking a US ship in 1967, and even gave some credence to the notion that a senior cleric was bumped off in 1987 by forces around the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the death made to look like suicide. “Most curious of all,” wrote Baker, “when the police arrived his cat was found to be dead in his sitting-room”. Baker complained that the cat’s food had not been taken away for forensic analysis. Perhaps, as I speculated in my own book, Baker – the man with the habit of being right and the greatest man in politics – thought it was a guard-cat. 

Benefit of evidence

When Norman Baker wrote his book (as opposed to when he published it) in 2007 he might not have been aware of how the “Kelly couldn’t have committed suicide” argument had been debunked by experts, not least on the BBC2 programme. Oborne, Phillips and Ingrams had no such excuse; the evidence was there if they wanted to find it. Yes, taking 29 co-proxamol tablets, together with slitting your ulnar artery and existing athero-schlerosis could indeed kill someone. No, there really wasn’t much doubt. 

I had wondered when I began reading Goslett’s book how he would deal with this evidence, as I did how he would handle the non-problems of the “no fingerprints on the knife” (see the review above), the position of the body and the supposed lack of blood.  

Goslett also had the benefit of something Baker had not, the evidence review conducted by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve following a campaign (involving Goslett among others) to get him to apply for a new inquest. Grieve made a statement to the House of Commons in June 2011. The Hansard transcript can be found here

Grieve told the House that he had considered the new evidence supplied by the campaigners, with the help of "Dr Richard Shepherd, a leading forensic pathologist, and Professor Robert Flanagan, a distinguished toxicologist.” He had also consulted the Thames Valley police, the Oxfordshire coroner, the Oxfordshire pathologist and Lord Hutton himself. 

“Having given the most careful consideration to all the material that has been sent to me, I have concluded that the evidence that Dr Kelly took his own life is overwhelmingly strong,” said Grieve, “Further, nothing that I have seen supports any allegation that Dr Kelly was murdered or that his death was the subject of any kind of conspiracy or cover-up. In my view, no purpose would be served by my making an application to the High Court for an inquest, and indeed I have no reasonable basis for doing so. There is no possibility that, at an inquest, a verdict other than suicide would be returned.”

He went on, “May I just say, in broad terms, that the suggestion that Dr Kelly did not take his own life is based not on positive evidence as such but on a criticism of the findings of the investigation and inquiry? It began with the views of a number of doctors, undoubtedly expert in their own areas of practice but not qualified as forensic pathologists, that Dr Kelly could not have died from loss of blood from the wounds described. To be fair to those who make such a claim, they did not have access to the material on which those conclusions had been reached in making their own reasoned arguments. Once such a doubt had been created, those who believed that Dr Kelly was murdered looked for contradictions in the evidence given to Lord Hutton, for matters that were apparently not followed up by the police and for any other issues that might be considered suspicious.” 

Readers may like to see the whole statement and then consider how odd it is that the straight-as-a-die and phenomenally courageous Norman Baker – by then a minister in the coalition government – did not seek to question the Attorney General on the matter. Perhaps the real Norman Baker had been abducted and replaced by a pliant doppelganger. 

In my review I pointed out that Goslett had dealt with much of the contrary evidence by not dealing with it. He dismisses Shepherd and Flanagan because they merely reviewed the evidence rather than conducting new forensic tests (the body had now been in the ground for eight years), but continues to endorse the theories of retired orthopaedic surgeons who had had limited access to the original pathologist’s report. He dismisses the post-mortem diagnosis of atherosclerosis on the basis that Kelly had a routine MoD check-up nine days earlier which had not picked it up. Goslett seems to think that this would be very unusual. He is over-optimistic. 

Goslett then makes much of a discrepancy in the reported weight of Dr Kelly nine days before the autopsy, and on the day. The discrepancy could be faulty weights, a faulty reading, a combination of clothing and extreme stress, lots of things. In fact, if you were to conspire to kill someone and you were REALLY clever you’d make sure that the two weights were the same. But no, the only dark implication that makes any sense here is that the two bodies were not really of the same man. 

The pattern that Grieve describes of “looking for contradictions” is evident. And, of course, in the absence of Goslett’s being willing to back an alternative theory (despite the fact that there must be one), he and Oborne and the others who take this line escape having to explain their other reality. 

                                                            ***

So no, I don’t buy the process or the just-saying defences of Kelly conspiracists. They are being violently innocent. I said in my review that some of this stems from the almost pathological hatred of Tony Blair, not least on the Daily Maily right-wing of British politics. In my review I dealt briefly with Goslett’s assertion that there was something mysterious about Tony Blair’s rapid calling of an Inquiry upon hearing of the death of Dr Kelly. I wrote, “Why, asks Goslett, did Blair not also consider the possibility that Kelly had ‘been the victim of a random assault by a psychopath’? Answers, as they say, on a postcard.” 

Oborne self-herniates. “This account,” he says, “gives the impression to readers of The Times that Goslett is a nutter who thinks that Tony Blair should have entertained the proposition that Kelly might have been subject to a random attack by a psychopath. Except Goslett doesn’t argue anything of the sort. He is making an entirely different point to illustrate the speed with which Tony Blair reacted to Kelly’s death.”

But it is Oborne who does not understand my point about Goslett’s “psychopath” speculation. It isn’t that I think Goslett thinks that Kelly was killed by a psychopath; my hunch is he has a daft theory about Kelly dying under interrogation. It is that Goslett seems to be arguing that a straight-dealing Tony Blair should have considered that death by psychopath was as strong a possibility as suicide. But he didn’t consider it because it wasn’t. Blair was almost certainly told on the plane that night, “David Kelly is dead and it looks like suicide”. Because he was and it did. 

Something of a Mail campaign

Let me turn briefly to Oborne’s charge that my review was “riddled with avoidable errors”, of which he names three.  Not exactly a riddling, but he isn’t totally wrong either. I was a day out when giving the date that Janice and David Kelly departed for Cornwall in the hiatus between committee appearances. And I said his body was exhumed “shortly after” Goslett had first been aware of the activities of the egregious grave-watcher, Gerrard Jonas. In fact the exhumation happened two-and-half years later, as a result –as we shall see – of Mr Jonas’s activities. Neither mistake can be described as impacting in any way on the arguments contained either in the book or the review. 

Then there was this: “Aaronovitch calls Goslett a former Mail journalist, and there are several sneers at the Daily Mail (where I write a weekly column) in his review… but he ought to have told his Times readers that Goslett worked for the Mail on Sunday. This newspaper, as Aaronovitch again must know perfectly well but the majority of Times readers probably wouldn’t, is editorially independent of the Daily Mail. It has always had a different tone, philosophy and set of political beliefs. Aaronovitch should have explained this.”

I don’t think it’s a sneer to reiterate what must be perfectly plain to readers by now, which is that the Mail titles have had a particular interest in pushing Kelly conspiracy stories and columns. The editor of the Daily Mail loathed (and loathes) Tony Blair and was (and still is) obviously happy to accommodate such rubbish. The writings of Oborne himself, Melanie Phillips, Stephen Glover, the serialisation of Norman Baker’s  “Kelly was murdered” book and so on, amount to something of a campaign. 

As to Goslett being a Mail on Sunday bod and definitively not a Mail man, perhaps I should just repeat here what Head of Zeus itself publishes on its website: “Miles Goslett is an award-winning journalist. He has written for the Sunday TelegraphThe Sunday TimesMail on SundayDaily MailSunThe Oldie and The Spectator.” 

Degrading politics

It may be that what prompted Oborne’s ire was my own irritation that publishers, writers and newspapers should be wasting their time with this stuff. In particular Oborne was keen to rebut the idea that anyone was expecting to make any money out of the book. According to him no one will get anything at all out of it. In fact they have probably lost. It was from the beginning a labour of love. 

To be honest I don’t know. Maybe that’s true, maybe I was harsh. Perhaps I shouldn’t have added “and another payday” to “another publication” in my review. In which case it was instead something of a vanity publication. When Neil Belton announced that he had “acquired the rights” to the book for what we must now assume to have been a token amount, it’s conceivable that he was motivated purely by public-spiritedness. As he wrote, “The doubts Goslett raises and the contradictions he exposes are sobering for anyone who cares about the degradation of truth in British politics”. 

It is an irony then that this book in fact ADDS to the degradation of truth in British politics. It’s of a piece with the attempts by British academics to blame rebels for chemically attacking themselves in Syria, in articles arguing that the Skripal poisoning was a security service hoax or repeating Russian claims that the Ukrainians shot down MH17. It helps create cynicism and a sense that our politicians, police, civil servants, secret services, senior judges, local coroners and all, are part of a Deep State conspiracy against the British people. If Goslett is right, none of them are ever to be trusted. 

And this perception is wrong. And the politics it feeds is not the politics of high-minded scepticism, but of street populism. 

Hurting people

Finally – if you have got this far – and have not tired of this spectacle of two aging journalistic stags bashing heads in what is a very remote clearing, I want to expand on what makes me so angry with Goslett - his insouciance about who he hurts.  

It has been a constant theme of Kelly conspiracism to question whether the weapons inspector was “the type” to commit suicide, and to look for whatever signs they could that he was not suicidal, even roping in casual acquaintances to say he seemed all right.  Suicide is complex and this was always an ignorant exercise (Norman Baker’s version of this was particularly dumb). 

I said in the review that one problem Kelly conspiracists have therefore always had is that of Janice Kelly, Dr Kelly’s wife. From the outset she (as well as number of his other friends) were clear that the experience of the days prior to his death had diminished him. He had, she said, “shrunk” into himself. No one spent more time in those days with Dr Kelly than she did.

Not only that but any alternative theory about his death (abduction, murder, body-swapping, witness protection) is likely to involve Mrs Kelly in lying. So Baker, the Kelly campaign groups and Goslett, have all attempted to undermine any confidence in Janice Kelly’s evidence. Baker was the most upfront about it. “It is even possible to surmise,” wrote Baker (“the greatest man in politics”), “that perhaps both Lord Hutton and Janice Kelly were told [that it had been murder] and each was asked to go along with the story for the sake of the nation.” 

It is also obvious that from the outset one of Lord Hutton’s concerns was for the feelings of the bereaved family, and especially Mrs Kelly. When Hutton ordered the post mortem report to be closed for 70 years, it was to “protect the Kellys from further and unnecessary distress". When conspiracy theorists made hay with this decision it was reversed and the report was published. 

But some people, as I wrote in my review, don’t give up. I’ve seen extreme examples myself where I live when an entirely absurd and horrible series of Satanic abuse allegations against the local primary school and church, was taken up by “campaigners”. They pitched up in the road, abusing parents and the local vicar as child murderers. They were utterly sincere, utterly implacable and utterly vile. It took weeks to get rid of them. 

In the case of the Kellys one group that kept turning up at the graveside was the Justice for Kelly group of which Goslett’s interlocuteur, Gerrard Jonas, was the founder. Mr Jonas applied on at least two occasions to have Dr Kelly’s body exhumed. He or someone in his group would leave placards near the grave. Mr Jonas says that he also left flowers close to it.

Goslett implicitly dates his book back to hearing, in November 2014, that Mr Jonas was told by a senior civil servant to leave the Kelly grave alone. His first reaction was not to say “it’s a free country, but I get why they did that”, but to see it as deeply suspicious. Then, towards the end of the book Mr Jonas contacts Goslett to tell him about the exhumation. When the news goes public three months later other papers quote the Kelly family as referring to the placard and adding “they used to leave notes on the grave and they would have vigils. Janice hated it, she felt it was a desecration, and asked the police to get them to stop.”

They didn’t stop and clearly by 2017 Janice had had enough. But what does Goslett think?  “Once I had verified this baffling development independently”, he writes, “I tried to find out more about its circumstances… It seemed most likely from a legal perspective that Dr Kelly’s family had been responsible. But why take such a radical step?” 

Goslett sees three points of significance in this event. First that he was not allowed to see the exhumation licence by the Diocese of Oxford (he could have made a legal application to see it, but decided not to). Second, was not the Diocese out of order because “it is clear that there are a great many people who would have objected…” to the exhumation? And third, Dr Kelly had converted to the Baha’i faith- “a faith”, writes Goslett, “which…strongly encourages its adherents to be buried and cremated. The uncomfortable question must therefore be asked: did Dr Kelly’s family go against his (assumed) beliefs by exhuming his remains” and cremating them? 

Must it be asked? Really? Isn’t it obvious, except to the most purblind and insensitive obsessive what was going here? The very fact that Dr Kelly had lain in the churchyard for 14 years argues against any kind of “if they’d dug him up they’d have found the truth” nonsense. Janice Kelly had had enough. And then in come Miles Goslett and Peter Oborne and the Mail to start it up all over again. 

Right at the end of this book, so praised by Peter Oborne Goslett recalls that, “as a result of the exhumation I had a conversation with somebody who told me that they spoke to David Kelly at length during the months before he was found dead, a fact I have been able to confirm independently. This person, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained to me that have carried with them what they call a ‘burden’ ever since. They said that in July 2003 Dr Kelly told them something about his work rather than his personal life which had shocked them so profoundly that they believed they should have gone straight to the police to report his claim. They never did so for reasons best known to themselves…” According to Goslett this person “would not elaborate” but were a coroner’s inquest now to be held then they’d feel obliged to testify. This same individual, said Goslett, supported the call for such an inquest.

So this anonymous person with vital but unknown information that they never gave the police for unknown reasons, and who has said nothing since also for unknown reasons – not said anything even anonymously to anyone at all, supports having an inquest at which they believe, 15 years later, that they would now be magically obliged to divulge it all. 

Right. And Peter Oborne is the noble defender of truth he depicts himself as – and I am Queen Marie of Romania.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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