Bahai News -- This is London - Kelly funeral as smear row rages

Kelly funeral as smear row rages

By Patrick Hennessy, Deputy Political Editor, Evening Standard
6 August 2003

The funeral of scientist David Kelly was taking place today as the row raged on over attempts by Downing Street to blacken the scientist's reputation.

Around 160 mourners were expected to attend a private service at a quiet Oxfordshire church overlooking the spot where he committed suicide last month.

They were being led by Dr Kelly's wife Janice, 58, eldest daughter Sian, 32, and twins Ellen and Rachel, 30, at St Mary's Church in the village of Longworth.

The service was being conducted by a Church of England vicar - but was thought to be featuring readings by fellow followers of the scientist's Baha'i faith.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who yesterday wrote to Mrs Kelly apologising for Downing Street's description of her husband as a Walter Mitty-style fantasist, was representing the government at the funeral.

Some of Dr Kelly's former colleagues from the Ministry of Defence were also expected to be there - but these did not include defence secretary Geoff Hoon, who is on a family holiday in the US.

Mr Hoon, who has been criticised for going on holiday at the time of the funeral, was said to have been ordered by his officials to lie low today.

Whitehall staff were concerned that any pictures of the Hoon family enjoying themselves on their break could look appallingly insensitive.

Virtually all government business ground to a halt today with ministers acutely aware of the dangers of appearing to divert attention away from Longworth.

But there was no let up in the row over the " Walter Mitty" remarks aimed at Dr Kelly by Tom Kelly, one of Tony Blair's two official spokesmen.

Mr Kelly's "unreserved" apology to the scientist's family - and a dressing down from Mr Prescott - was thought to have drawn the immediate heat from calls for his sacking.

Mr Prescott, in charge while Mr Blair is on holiday, has also threatened Mr Kelly with disciplinary action at the hands of Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet secretary.

The inquiry by Lord Hutton into events surrounding the death of Dr Kelly, which starts on Monday, is almost certain to take in the furore about the Walter Mitty remarks.

The main question turned on whether - despite a denial by Mr Kelly - the branding of the scientist represented a concerted attempt by the government to smear his reputation.

That, in turn, would suggest that the original strategy of Downing Street communications chief Alastair Campbell - to attack the BBC for exaggerating what Dr Kelly had told them about the threat posed by Iraqi weapons in the run up to war - had failed.

©Copyright 2003, This is London (UK)

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