British scientist foretold own death, says colleague

Friday, August 22, 2003

LONDON -- Five months before he committed suicide, government weapons scientist David Kelly told a colleague that he feared he might "be found dead in the woods" if a U.S.-led coalition went to war with Iraq, a judicial inquiry was told Thursday.

Many in the packed courtroom gasped at the testimony. Kelly, identified as a source of a BBC report that questioned the integrity of the government's case for war, was found dead at the edge of a clump of woods near his rural home July 18.

The bitter dispute between the government and the British Broadcasting Corp. over the network's coverage of Prime Minister Tony Blair's arguments for going to war, including warnings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, has become the biggest crisis of his six years in office.

The judge directing the inquiry, Lord Hutton, announced at the end of Thursday's session that Blair would give evidence next Thursday, a day after an appearance by Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.

David Broucher, a British representative to the United Nations conference on disarmament in Geneva, testified that he met Kelly, a former U.N. inspector in Iraq, in Switzerland on Feb. 27 after requesting a briefing on Iraq and biological weapons.

Kelly, Britain's leading expert on Baghdad's weapons programs, said he had been urging his Iraqi contacts to allow full inspections to avoid the threat of attack, but the Iraqis feared that if they disclosed too much about their state of readiness, they might become more vulnerable, Broucher said.

"My impression was that he felt he was in some personal difficulty or embarrassment about this because he felt the invasion might go ahead anyway and somehow it was putting him in a morally ambiguous situation," Broucher said.

"As David Kelly was leaving, I said to him, 'What do you think will happen if Iraq is invaded?'

"His reply was, which at the time I took to be a throwaway remark, he said, 'I will probably be found dead in the woods."'

Broucher said he didn't report the conversation to his superiors at the Foreign Office in an e-mail until Aug. 5 "because I didn't attribute any particular significance to it."

"I thought he might have meant that he was at risk of being attacked by the Iraqis in some way," he said.

Kelly killed himself in mid-July, a week after he was named as a possible source behind news reports that accused the government of manipulating intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs to make a stronger case for war.

A government pathologist reported earlier this month that the main cause of Kelly's death was bleeding from several cuts on his left wrist. Kelly also swallowed more than a prescription dose of painkillers.

His family said the scrutiny he endured after being revealed as a source made his life intolerable.

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