‘Cool guy’ who was no stranger to pressure




By Mark Huband

Financial Times, 18 July 2003

David Kelly’s reputation as a tough weapons inspector in Iraq and Russia had convinced his friends and family that he could cope with the intense pressure he faced as the furore of weapons of mass destruction erupted.

A police source who had spoken with the dead scientist’s family yesterday said they had not stopped him from leaving the house on Thursday afternoon because he appeared to be coping well with the pressure.

Among former United Nations weapons inspectors who worked with Mr Kelly in Iraq, he was regarded as exceptionally resilient. Between 1991-98 he spent many months in Iraq and, as a chief weapons inspector, had the task of dealing with the hostility of the highly obstructive Iraqi regime. The regime singled him out for criticism, and was delighted when he eventually left the country.

“He had a proven track record of functioning while in an essentially hostile environment. But I don’t think any of that prepares people for the kind of pressure he has been under in the past few days,” said Garth Whitty, a former UN arms inspector who worked closely with Mr Kelly in Iraq.

However, Ministry of Defence staff had left Mr Kelly isolated and helpless as he tried to head off the furore that erupted when he was identified as the source of a BBC report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, an MoD insider said.

In the days before Mr Kelly’s body was found near his Oxfordshire home yesterday morning, the highly regarded weapons expert had been treated like a pariah who some staff denied even knowing, the source said. Staff had made their telephone numbers ex-directory, and even moved house to escape the pressure they were under from officials, parliament and the media.

One of Mr Kelly’s last communications was an e-mail to Alastair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds university, who on Monday had sent Mr Kelly a message of encouragement after watching him on television. Mr Kelly replied by e-mail at 11.17am on Thursday, writing: “Many thanks for your support. Hopefully it will soon pass and I can get to Baghdad and get on with the real job.”

Mr Hay, who had attended conferences with Mr Kelly, said yesterday: “His integrity was being called into question because he spoke honestly to [a reporter] who wanted to know about what was going on in Iraq. When I saw him on the television my first reaction was: this man is so beaten.”

Mr Kelly’s career started in agricultural science, but he later became head of microbiology at the MoD’s top secret chemical research centre at Porton Down, Wiltshire. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Mr Kelly was heard to say: “Little did I realise that Saddam Hussein would dictate the next 10 years of my life.”

After four years as a weapons inspector in Iraq, Mr Kelly was appointed senior adviser on biological warfare to the UN. He also led similarly demanding inspections of Russian biological weapons sites between 1991-94.

Terry Taylor, another former UN weapons inspector, talked to Mr Kelly four days ago and said he showed no signs of strain. “He seemed like his normal self,” said Mr Taylor, head of the Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “He was a cool guy, kind of impassive. Pressure to him was not a strange thing. Unusual situations were not a strange thing.”


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.