Hazel McHaffie

Dr David Kelly

Conspiracy or human tragedy?

Remember the nation holding its breath a decade ago? The Blair administration reeling from widespread dissent about the war in Iraq? The scandal about leaked reports saying that the case for war had been ‘sexed up’? Government scientist Dr David Kelly named as the source, facing a hostile inquiry from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee? Found dead in woods near his Oxfordshire home a couple of days later? Rumour and counter-rumour abounding.

Dark ActorsIt’s not dead yet. Author and crime novelist Robert Lewis is today in the Peppers Theatre recounting his take on the events surrounding this terrible human tragedy involving his fellow Welshman. I know his book, Dark Actors, has been roundly slaughtered in some quarters, but I am determined to give him a fair hearing.

He was a 23 year old undergrad in Aberystwyth when it happened, but he’s talked to a lot of the people who were involved at the time. He’s clearly been a committed biographer, and today he’s totally to grips with his subject, an accomplished speaker, but careful to defer courteously to those who hold other views. He admits he approached this project rather like a murder mystery it was his job to unravel, but he soon realised that the truth was immensely more complicated than he had anticipated.

To begin with, Dr Kelly’s life was totally eclipsed by his death, and the real man, the quiet civil servant, the background operator, was ‘hard to find‘. He’d spent his life in a closed secretive world and the Kelly who was emerging seemed to be something quite different from the grey, reticent person seen on TV, crushed by the questions fired by the FASC. He was in fact a hard-edged leading expert in biological warfare, working for the Ministry of Defence, the Arms Control Department and the Foreign Office, at the very heart of government security. He was accustomed to talking to powerful authority figures foreign or homegrown, confident, centred and direct (as witnessed by the transcripts of his interview by the Intelligence and Security Committee).

Under the expert guidance of the chair, Al Senter, who has done his homework admirably thoroughly, Lewis teases out the anomalies and questions: in the records given by reporters Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts and their actions; in Downing Street’s responses; Kelly’s own changing evidence; in the reasons given for his summary dismissal from Kuwait; the tampered-with evidence at the death scene; the mystery of the missing dental record; discrepancies in the Hutton and subsequent inquiries. So many incongruities and inexplicable anomalies. So much speculation. Lewis admits he met with a series of closed doors and broken lines of communication, but he concludes, a life cloaked in silence and secrecy is ‘indicative of something‘.

Sinister undertones even creep into Robert Lewis’ own life when he traces the last steps of Dr Kelly into the woods, but hears the voice of the paramedic saying the scientist didn’t die there, the body was moved. What then is Lewis mirroring? And then he finds the last chapter of his book, Dark Actors, circulating on the net before he’s even finished it. I can only wonder at his courage in appearing at the Festival without a motorcade of police guarding him: any one of us sitting in the Peppers Theatre might be a threat!

I’m going to give you a break from daily posts few a few days – other fish to fry! Have a good relaxing weekend.



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Summer holidays

Holiday time is here again for Scottish schools, and my calendar has several weeks blocked out in indelible ink for the grandchildren who come to stay every summer. A lovely excuse to forget work and get out and about exploring this beautiful and historic land. We’ve made for the sea several times just to escape the intense heat!

EI Book Festival programmeeAlso written in capital letters in the diary are assorted slots for the Edinburgh International Book Festival – always a highlight in the year. As usual some sessions were sold out before tickets even went on sale to the public (grrrr! Why do they do that?), but by dint of buying them on the first available day, I have seats for events about topics as diverse as fleeing a religious cult; a journey into dementia; a history of the Dukes of Devonshire; the neuroscience of memory; the death of Dr David Kelly; the ethics of dying; one woman’s experience of acute encephalitis; and the role of storytelling in maintaining sanity. Sounds pretty good to me.

I’ve also had invitations from elsewhere to attend a debate on assisted dying and to showcase my work in an arts and ethics symposium, both in August, so lots of excitement ahead.

Over my Dead Body coverOn the Over my Dead Body book front things are moving steadily.  Lots of double checking needed to be sure every step is taken on sure foundations, but this week the final final details are going off to the cover designer, and as soon as he’s worked his magic, the whole thing goes to the printer. Too late then for any more tweaking … Help! Hard to believe we’re in the home straight.





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