Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A comment or two on Dr Hunt's Report

Now that the dust has settled a bit since the publication on the internet of the report by forensic pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt into Dr Kelly's death I'll make one or two comments.  The first thing to say is that as far as the purely medical side of things are concerned I didn't find anything surprising. Having read Dr Hunt's quite detailed testimony at the Hutton Inquiry and been aware of the comments he had been making in the media a little while prior to the publication it would be amazing if I was suddenly shocked.  At Hutton Dr Hunt reeled off his conclusions and they appear to match the written words.  What we have in the report of course is much more anatomical detail but all I can say here is that it doesn't mean much to me.

To the uninformed person the plethora of individual actions couched in medical terms suggests that here is a man on top of his job doing a thorough examination.  But was this the case?  So far as the technical side is concerned we need an expert in forensic pathology to go through the report with a fine tooth comb to see whether all the actions that might have been carried out were in fact carried out.  Notwithstanding the fact that I don't have a medical background there are some matters I want to comment on.

The first of these isn't medical at all in fact.  It concerns a statement made by Dr Hunt in his preamble to carrying out the examination on the afternoon and early evening of the 18th.  Before considering that I will just mention for completeness that Dr Hunt states he approached the inner cordon via a farm track and field.  He was logged into this inner cordon at 12.04.  I'm fairly sure that the farm track is the one running almost parallel and slightly west of the track that searchers and ambulance crew had used earlier that day and would imagine looking at Google Earth that the field is the substantial one that extends to the north of the wood.  This is what you will have seen in all those media reports.  A number of people judging by what I've read on the internet are under the illusion that the white tent in the pictures is covering Dr Kelly's body.  This is not so, the white tent was a place where anyone having to make notes could go to if it started to rain.

Before the examination started Dr Hunt was given some background information by scenes of crime officer (SOCO) Mark Schollar.  Dr Hunt notes in his report that Dr Kelly was apparently seen heading for a walk at approximately 1500 hours on the 17th and subsequently seen at 1530 hours walking northwards.  If Mr Schollar had been told these two "facts" it suggests to me a certain degree of chaos in the police service that morning because neither of the sightings were verified by the evidence presented at the Inquiry.  Mrs Kelly had deduced that her husband left for his walk between about 3 o'clock and 3.20 but she didn't actually see him set out and there was nobody else so far as we know who had.  Neighbour Ruth Absalom had met him when she was walking her dog but she intimated her belief at the Inquiry that Dr Kelly had taken the road towards Kingston Bagpuize which is east from where she and Dr Kelly met.  It was earlier that morning that DC Coe had fortuitously seen Ms Absalom and one assumes that DC Coe would have relayed this important piece of information to his superiors at an early opportunity.

Turning to matters of a medical nature now we have something I find quite extraordinary and that is the fact that Dr Hunt didn't observe Dr Kelly's rectal temperature until 7.15 in the evening just a few minutes before leaving the site.  It has become relatively common knowledge I think that the sooner this temperature is taken the better (it has to be noted at the same time as the outside or ambient temperature).  Why?  It's a prime indicator of time of death because of course the body is cooling after life functions cease and, using tables, the pathologist is able to give a time window in which he considers death occurred.  The sooner this is done the tighter the time window so one would imagine that the pathologist would make this an early task.       

Officially this was an "unexplained death" on that Friday but had the police already made up their minds that this was a tragic suicide.  If a suicide then time of death although important would be far less critical than that of a murder because the police wouldn't be looking at third party involvement in the death - well only to the point that the actions of a third party could have driven a person to commit suicide (I'm talking in general rather than specific terms now).  Back to Dr Kelly and if his death was still in the "unexplained" category I would have thought that the police on site would have been hounding Dr Hunt to try and get an answer as to time of death.  In the end Dr Hunt came to a time of death between 16.15 on the 17th and 01.15 on the 18th a very wide band of some nine hours.

In fact we don't know whether Dr Kelly died on the 17th or the 18th of July.


  1. In her evidence, Mrs Absalom says that she left home unusually early that day, she estimates at 2.15 to reach the next village Longworth where she met her neighbour in Southmoor,Dr Kelly. She estimates the time of meeting as
    It seems inconceivable that Dr Kelly could leave home between 3 and 3.20 as estimated by Mrs Kelly and meet Mrs Absalom in the next village at about 3. I would guess 2.45 at the latest would allow him to walk across to Longworth.
    Wing Commander Clark however, then assumes the 3pm departure is fact...
    "I was told by his wife who answered the telephone that Dr Kelly had gone for a walk at 3 o'clock.
    She did not know that.
    Wing Commander Clark continues...
    "Yes, I had a call with him which was just before 3 o'clock. Again I thought it was earlier but we have been able to track that down from investigating my log of e-mails and the telephone log that the police were able to provide. So about 6 or 7 minutes before 3 o'clock was the last conversation"
    To me, that implies that Dr Kelly was probably out on his walk at that time.
    Of course, telephone records could tell whether that call came from Dr Kelly's house or his mobile. Perhaps he used his mobile from the house: that is not important. I assume that the phone call at 2.53 or 2.54 would have lasted more than a few moments, from the content of the call, so Wing Commander Clark's log would I am sure tell the duration of the call were it to be released. That would delay the departure of Dr Kelly even more, making the meeting with Mrs Absalom even more unlikely.

  2. Brian,

    It was earlier that morning that DC Coe had fortuitously seen Ms Absalom and one assumes that DC Coe would have relayed this important piece of information to his superiors at an early opportunity.

    "Fortuitously" assumes that Dr. Kelly wasn't under observation at the time he left his home on the afternoon of 17th July 2003.

    Remember that Operation Mason, whose nature is still concealed (so far as I'm aware), was described as follows on the Hutton Inquiry web site:

    TVP Tactical Support Major Incident Policy Book: Operation 'Mason' Between 1430 17.07.03 and 0930 18.07.03, DCI Alan Young - not for release - Police operational information
    TVP/10/0099 - 0105

    At a minimum, from 14.30 on 17th July it is possible that Dr. Kelly was under surveillance.

    If that possibility reflects reality then DC Coe speaking to Ms Absalom bears a different interpretation.

    What does "Tactical Support Major Incident" mean in the title quoted above?

    Is one citizen becoming a missing person typically a "major incident"?

    I suggest there may be more, perhaps much more, to Operation Mason than meets the eye.

    And, if you pause to think about it, why does a "major incident" stop when the body of a missing person is found? Surely a dead body is more "major" than someone merely missing!?

    Also note the time that Operation Mason ends. It's 09.30 on 18th July.

    Think what, according to the witnesses, was known or (for public consumption at least) not known at that time point.

  3. In the middle of a Major Incident, perhaps centred around Dr Kelly himself, the Policeman who attends Mrs Kelly's house in the middle of the night, no doubt after a good discussion, assesses Dr Kelly as a medium risk missing person disappearance , (upgraded to high risk much later-vide infra). Perhaps Sgt Morris was not aware of there being a Major Incident under way for the past 12 hours or so?
    The exchange between Mr Dingemans and ACC Page reminds me of dialogue from a a Harold Pinter play...
    "What does that mean [medium risk assessment], is that a good or bad thing?
    A. Neither good nor bad in many respects...."
    Mr Page says that the female Chief Superintendent rang Mr Page because she had realised the importance of Dr Kelly because, if you believe this she had watched the news and was a local resident (!) and by inference had no idea that Operation Mason was under way. The Chief Super raised it "somewhat higher" (what , High, Medium High?)
    By 8am, according to PC Sawyer's evidence, Dr Kelly had been upgraded to high risk
    This is the mad house.

  4. Andrew

    Yes DC Coe again! The comparison between DC Coe's evidence and that of the other people arriving at Harrowdown Hill on the Friday morning (searchers, medics, PCs Franklin and Sawyer) is quite remarkable in terms of its extreme brevity. With the police one would expect an orderly procession of statements with defined actions and times following each other in a logical way. With DC Coe the answers are very terse, there is a sense he is pushing to get the questioning over just as quickly as possible.

    When counsel have completed their questioning they ask each witness if they think they can add anything further, something one would expect. Most would answer with a plain 'no' or 'no, I don't think so" perhaps. DC Coe's reply: 'Nothing whatsoever'. This I would describe as not shutting the door but slamming it in your face and barring and bolting it! I just get this feeling that DC Coe, aided and abetted to some extent by Mr Knox, was doing everything to ensure he would say the least amount possible.

  5. Curiouser and curiouser. I have been following this case from the onset and find your blog and the comments attached very interesting. I'd like to comment on the following:

    Quote: "This I would describe as not shutting the door but slamming it in your face and barring and bolting it! I just get this feeling that DC Coe, aided and abetted to some extent by Mr Knox, was doing everything to ensure he would say the least amount possible."

    So, why then did Coe recently volunteer more information to the Daily Mail?

    I notice that the Daily Mail have seen fit to remove Coe's locality, which was described clearly in an earlier publication.

  6. There is something very puzzling about that COMMON APPROACH PATHWAY which crops up everywhere. Do we know what it was? Did it connect the two tents? And why was a fingertip search done of it after noon meaning Mr Hunt wasted 1.5 hours (doing what)? How did it differ from the rest of the wood? Was it the obvious route Dr Kelly used? (I am quoting Mr Hunt's report) And what was happening in the "inner cordon" upto 2.10pm? Did Mr Hunt have to wait for the foresic biologists?

  7. Felix,

    My broad understanding of the "common approach pathway" is that it's intended for the Police to use after it's been carefully searched for any conceivably relevant evidence.

    So the "fingertip search" was intended to find such evidence.

    Once that's done the Police, pathologist etc can access the crime scene without risking destroying evidence.

    It makes sense to me that Dr. Hunt waited for the arrival of the forensic biologist. For example, once Nicholas Hunt started doing his pathology stuff he might inadvertently be destroying what might be vital clues for the forensic biologist.

    Disgracefully, Thames Valley Police seem not to have taken any steps to consider that the track could have been used to transport David Kelly's body close to the scene where it was discovered.

    See my recent post at:

  8. Daphne,

    I believe that Graham Coe lives in / near Wantage.

    Why did he talk to the Daily Mail?

    Maybe he felt he had to say "something".

    A "No comment" always looks suspicious, doesn't it?

    Particularly when the public narrative is that David Kelly's death was simply an unfortunate suicide.

  9. Thanks, Andrews for the help. So I guess the "common approach path" is one which had not been used previously by paramedics, DC Coe,etc.