It’s time to accept the dull & boring facts, says Tom Harris

I blame Nixon. And Lew Grade.

Until Watergate, everyone believed their government was up to no good, but they could never quite prove it. You can hardly blame anyone for buying into the Kennedy conspiracy. And when JFK’s younger brother and Martin Luther King were felled by assassins’ bullets within months of each other in 1968, the public could be forgiven for believing they were bit players in a Hollywood movie. There was no doubting who the bad guys were.

Then Woodward and Bernstein had to go and publish evidence that the government were, after all, the bad guys. The cultural message was received loud and clear throughout the world. Official cover-ups have become such a central part of our entertainment industry that it is now simply not on to suggest that conspiracies are more fiction than fact.

 Then there was Capricorn One (you were wondering when Lew Grade would come into it, weren’t you?), and suddenly the media were giving publicity to brain-addled hippies who had proved that Apollo had been faked using evidence procured by going through Buzz Aldrin’s bins.

Today, the front page of the Daily Mail proclaims that just one in five people believe the official story that Dr David Kelly committed suicide. When I was studying journalism I was taught that when a dog bites a man, that’s not news. When most people believe that the official story is hiding foul play, I’m afraid I see that as a dog biting a man. People want to believe in conspiracies because in doing so, they make life much more interesting than it actually is. More like a movie, in fact. And who wouldn’t want to live in that glamorous world instead of this one?

When claims are made about David Kelly’s death, they are never made in isolation; there is always context: here was an esteemed weapons inspector and government employee who had been caught briefing the press on an incredibly sensitive matter. Days after his public grilling in front of the foreign affairs select committee, he is found dead in countryside near his home.

But would his death have attracted so much debate had he been, say, an anonymous member of another profession, like teaching, for example? He had been famous, albeit briefly, and therefore his death simply couldn’t have been as straight forwards as suicide, surely?

As David Aaronovitch has repeatedly pointed out:

the pathologists who spent many hours examining the body, both at the  scene and in the lab, gave the severed artery and consequent blood loss  as the primary cause of death, but the swallowing of 29 co-proxamol  tablets (painkillers) and an existing (undiagnosed) artery condition as  contributory factors.

In 2007 the BBC’s The Conspiracy Files interviewed Professor Robert Forrest, a toxicologist, and then the President of the Forensic Science Society, on the subject of David  Kelly. “I’ve got no doubt,” Professor Forrest said, “that the cause of  David Kelly’s death was a combination of blood loss, heart disease and  an overdose of co-proxamol . . . it is important that all of them  interacted to lead to the death.”

But that is letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Former British Ambassador Craig Murray actually blogged that Kelly’s death “paved the way for war” – three months after the invasion.

Yet calls for an inquest – in defiance of the wishes of Dr Kelly’s family – are less about the facts surrounding his sad and tragic death than about finding yet more reasons to refight the arguments that led to war in Iraq in 2003.

In today’s post-Watergate (and post-Capricorn One) era, we just can’t be expected to suspend disbelief long enough to accept the dull, boring facts.

Tom Harris is the Labour MP for Glasgow South


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7 Responses to “It’s time to accept the dull & boring facts, says Tom Harris”

  1. epictrader says:

    I can’t speak for the 1 in 5 that believe the official version of Dr Kelly’s death but I heard a level-headed, sober, non-hysterical medical expert on Radio 4 yesterday cast doubt on the nature of his death.

    I also read in the Mirror that there are as many as 9 medical experts who share a similar opinion. None of these experts as I understand it hold any type of conspiracy theory as to the real cause of death but rather, like any good professional, merely want to understand the cause of death and have their reservations about the official explanation answered. Seems a fairly innocuous and reasonable position to take.

    Great read, incidentally.

  2. I wonder if Tom Harris can think of another time when a British government stepped in to prevent an inquest from continuing?

  3. Isla Dowds says:

    There seems to be, at the very least, possible incompetence and negligence, and perhaps a lot more, in the events surrounding his death. Surely then these should be held up to the full light of day? Have you read Norman Baker’s book? I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions but the evidence and indeed the questions he raises deserve a full answer Mr Harris. Families can have many reasons, not all of them good, or good enough, to deny an inquest.

  4. James Ruddick says:

    I apologise for being pedantic but Watergate did not reveal a government conspiracy – it was actually the legislative arm of government which brought Nixon down. The conspiracy was engineered by members of Creep, the Campign to Re-Elect the President, and their numbers were small. My little correction is intended to illustrate a wider point – that governments do not conspire but that powerful cliques of like-minded people do. And then some.

    The publics’ penchant for believing conspiracy theories stems not – as Mr Harris claims – from a desire to make life more exciting but actually from a very sound understanding of human nature. Human beings have an endless desire to be vengeful, controlling, to silence enemies and critics, to covet glory, to acquire and hoard power. They frequently do terrible things and will invariably use their positions to cover up what they have done. That is an incontrovertible truth, and a passing acquaintance with the scandal sheets of the last hundred years confirms it time and time again.

    So perhaps Dr Kelly did take his life. Then again, perhaps he was murdered. We will probably never know. But it is at any rate patronising and silly to criticise people for being suspicious when the lessons of human experience make any other reaction a folly.

  5. The Hutton enquiry WAS an inquest – it was an escalation, a big budget super-inquest. It’s horrible that unthinking conspiracy fans want to put his family through all this just to satisfy their own need to feel that they’ve cleverly seen through the official story. This isn’t a cop show where the lone voice speaking out is always right.

    We have all the terrible facts about the horrific war in Iraq, it’s atrocious that some people want to use Kelly’s death in this way. The proven fact that our political media system hounded him to suicide is something that should be being used to change these systems but its being completely overlooked because of this.

  6. brian in the tamar valley says:

    Pete Lambert, the ‘Hutton Inquiry’ was emphatically not an inquest! A coroner’s inquest has the power to subpoena witnesses (Hutton didn’t), would take evidence under oath (Hutton didn’t) and with such a prominent death would have a verdict decided by a jury. For a verdict of suicide to be recorded, or murder for that matter, the evidence would have to prove that this was “beyond reasonable doubt”. An inquest also has the option of returning an open verdict.

    This is nothing to do with conspiracy theories: it is a matter of getting at the truth regarding Dr Kelly’s demise. The official verdict of suicide is based on the opinions of the pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt and that of Lord Hutton. As to Dr Hunt he made the schoolboy error of not checking the rectal temperature of the deceased until his examination on site was all but over (it should have been done first because it helps determine the time of death). Regarding Lord Hutton, he is hardly a medical expert and failed to test the medical witnesses evidence – the whole of the medical evidence at the inquiry was concluded in half a day, far too short a time.

    There are far too many assumptions in the official version of events. For instance the ‘suicide’ camp keep saying that Kelly ingested 29 coproxamol tablets even though the medical evidence doesn’t support such a statement. Because 29 tablets were missing from the blister packs the assumption was made that all 29 disappeared inside Dr Kelly even though the post mortem doesn’t back this up. I get very angry when supposedly intelligent people talk about him swallowing this number of tablets. Allegedly Kelly had a marked aversion to taking tablets and it seems had great difficult in swallowing them. This is an example of an aspect that a new inquest could test by asking his wife and his GP for instance.

    This is just one anomaly in the Kelly business, a new inquest is the only way to try and get some sort of closure on this unfortunate man’s death.

  7. “The Hutton enquiry WAS an inquest”

    Poppycock. The inquest was halted and is yet to be resumed.

    “The proven fact that our political media system hounded him to suicide…”

    Not a proven fact, merely the pre-supposition of the Hutton whitewash.

    “This isn’t a cop show where the lone voice speaking out is always right.”

    Like the article, you want to make this about the supposedly dumb, suspicious public, and not about the facts of the matter.

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