Bahai News -- The Scotsman - Caught in the middle of Labour's row with the BBC

Sat 19 Jul 2003

Caught in the middle of Labour's row with the BBC


UNTIL he was thrust into the public spotlight, David Kelly was a virtually anonymous scientist, known only within the circles in which he worked and to a few journalists who he was authorised to brief on weapons programmes.

Then he was identified by the Ministry of Defence, his employer, as the possible source of the contentious BBC story that alleged Alastair Campbell, Downing Streetís communications chief, had hyped up one of the governmentís key intelligence dossiers on Iraq.

Caught in a bitter row between the BBC and Downing Street, Dr Kellyís life was turned upside down.

With the government furious over claims made by the BBCís defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan, Dr Kelly was called in front of the Commons foreign affairs committee on Tuesday.

He admitted he had met Mr Gilligan a week before he broadcast his story on the Radio 4 Today programme, a conversation that had not been authorised by the MoD.

In the face of what some regarded as hostile questioning, he denied he was the source for the story, insisting Mr Gilliganís account of his conversation with his source was so different from their conversation that he did not believe he could be the source.

Since that appearance, he complained he had been swamped by media attention. But prior to the committee hearing, Dr Kelly was virtually unknown outside his profession and his circle of friends.

A religious man, he was a practising member of the Bahaíi faith, and a former treasurer of the Abingdon Spiritual Assembly in Oxfordshire. He played cribbage in his local pub on Mondays.

Tom Mangold, a television journalist and close friend, said Dr Kelly was a source to many reporters and he tried to help journalists to understand a complex topic.

"He was a man whose brain could boil water. He used words with tremendous precision. He used them as weapons," he said. "There was nothing he didnít know about biological warfare, and there wasnít much he didnít know about weapons of mass destruction."

With an Oxford education, Dr Kelly had a background in agricultural science.

He worked as the chief science officer at the Natural Environment Research Council Institute of Virology before moving to the Ministry of Defence, where he worked in the chemical research centre at Porton Down in Wiltshire, eventually becoming head of microbiology. For more than three years he acted as the scientific adviser to the proliferation and arms control secretariat.

As an expert in arms control, he served as a weapons inspector in Iraq following the first Gulf war between 1991 and 1998.

Friends say he was keen to return to the country to resume the hunt for weapons of mass destruction programmes. In 1994, he was appointed as the United Nationsí senior adviser on biological warfare in Iraq, a position he held until 1999.

He was also responsible for inspecting Russiaís biological warfare facilities from 1991 to 1994.

A former colleague, Garth Whitty, described him as an internationally regarded expert in biological weapons defence who normally coped well under pressure.

"He was a quiet man who got on with his job. He did it with the highest professional standards," he said.

One element of his job was to brief journalists on the complexities of weapons issues, as well as advising British ministers on weapons of mass destruction.

He visited Iraq dozens of times under Saddam Husseinís regime, and was working as a government adviser in the proliferation and arms control secretariat.

While a weapons inspector, he once said during a lecture: "When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, little did I realise that Saddam Hussein would dictate the next ten years of my life."

In September last year he gave evidence to a Commons committee probing the war on terrorism. He was speaking in his role as chief scientific officer and senior adviser to the proliferation and arms control secretariat of the Ministry of Defence, and the non-proliferation department of the Foreign Office.

When he spoke to the foreign affairs committee this week, it was in very different circumstances - and under a much brighter media spotlight.

But he told the committee: "I believe I am not the main source. From the conversation I had [with BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan] I donít see how he could make the authoritative statements he was making from the comments that I made."

His disclosure prompted an angry reaction from MPs on the committee, who claimed he had been set up by the MoD.

©Copyright 2003, The Scotsman (UK)

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