Tuesday, January 26, 2010

As Blair faces questions and answers for outrageous fortune, doctors challenge Kelly death secrecy

ANTI-WAR demonstrators called him "Tony B Liar", but Tony Blair's income seems to grow faster than Pinnocchio's nose. The former prime minister who took Britain to war in Iraq is due to face questions from the Chilcott inquiry into the war on Friday. The news meanwhile is that hedge fund Lansdowne Holdings is to pay Blair to lecture staff on world affairs.

Lansdowne made a fortune betting on the fall of Barclays and Northern Rock shares at the height of the credit crunch, with an estimated £100m from the demise of the now nationalised Northern Rock. One of the firm's founders, former Goldman Sachs banker Paul Ruddock has donated about £260,000 to the Conservative party.

A reminder then that all that guff about class being brought into the election campaign is not going to come between friends.

A spokesman for the former prime minister would not comment on fees, but Blair will reportedly be paid as much as £180,000 for 90 minutes for his thoughts on geopolitics. That works out at about £2,000 a minute. But hey! he's just an ordinary guy, y'know, and we should be proud that he's showing the way for us pensioners and people seeking a second career in the recession, with the estimated £10 million he has made since leaving office on top of the £63,000 pension that the taxpayer provides.


We don't know whether Lansdowne staff with reports to prepare will be able to call on Blair's expertise in making use of dodgy dossiers, or if the Chilcot inquiry will go for the lowdown on this, but a group of doctors are challenging Lord Hutton's decision, reported at the weekend, to classify information about the death of government scientist and weapons inspector Dr.David Kelly.

Dr.Kelly's body was found in woodland on Harrowdown hill, near his Oxfordshire home, on the morning of July 17, 2003. He had said he was going for a walk the previous afternoon, and his wife reported him missing after he failed to return that night. This was shortly after it was revealed that he was the weapons inspector who rejected claims that Iraqi trucks housed germ warfare labs, and the source of the BBC report casting doubt on the Government's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capable of being fired within 45 minutes.

An inquest into David Kelly's death was suspended by then Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, who ruled that Lord Hutton's inquiry could take its place. But in the event, the inquiry focused more on the question of how the BBC report came to be broadcast than on the medical explanation for Dr Kelly's death.

Lord Hutton's report in 2004 concluded that Dr Kelly killed himself by cutting an artery in his wrist. He had supposedly taken a large quantity of painkillers first. But Dave Bartlett and Vanessa Hunt, the paramedics who were called to the scene of his death, have gone public with their view that there was not enough blood there to show someone died from cutting an artery. Doctors also say david Kelly's stated injuries were not serious enough.

A report in the Mail on Sunday at the weekend said Lord Hutton has ruled that medical records including the post-mortem report will remain classified until after all those with a direct interest in the case are dead.
A 30-year secrecy order would be placed on written records provided to the inquiry which were not produced as evidence. The Ministry of Justice said decisions on the evidence were a matter for Lord Hutton. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who has conducted his own investigations into Dr Kelly's death, described the order as "astonishing".

How this news has come out also seems irregular. No official announcement appeared. But former assistant coroner Michael Powers, QC, said had seen a letter from the legal team of Oxfordshire County Council explaining the unusual restrictions. The letter states: "Lord Hutton made a request for the records provided to the inquiry, not produced in evidence, to be closed for 30 years, and that medical (including post-mortem) reports and photographs be closed for 70 years."

The five doctors who made an application to the Oxford coroner to have the inquest reopened were told Lord Hutton made his ruling in 2003 . But it was not mentioned in his report. The doctors are trauma surgeon David Halpin, epidemiologist Andrew Rouse, surgeon Martin Birnstingl, radiologist Stephen Frost and Chris Burns-Cox, who specialises in internal general medicine. They applied for the documents with a view to applying to the attorney general to have the inquest reopened.

But a response from the coroner's legal advisers rejected the doctors' request, and revealed that the documents had been classified. "It is truly remarkable that they should be kept secret for twice as long as the other documents. I'm sure that they will meet with their legal advisers and consider the most appropriate way to deal with this," Michael Powers said.

"If these secret reports support the suicide finding, what could they contain that could be so sensitive? ..."There should be a full inquiry. We need a proper answer," said Powers. "The medical evidence doesn't add up. I have yet to meet a doctor that will say it was even possible, let alone likely."

Former surgeon David Halpin, told the Morning Star: "This is an attempt to subvert due process. Dr David Kelly never had an inquest in the accepted meaning of the term and now the evidence of the pseudo-inquest has been quarantined for 30 years for non-medical evidence and 70 years for medical evidence."

News of the decision to keep the documents classified has come as a surprise to lawyers. There is no mention of the decision on the Hutton inquiry website. "If a matter as sensitive as this was not made public … it raises questions as to what else was withheld," said Powers. "You can't help but suspect that the legal advisers to the Oxfordshire coroner disclosed it inadvertently, thinking that it was already known that this material was being kept secret for such a long period."

Questions have remained around the death of Dr Kelly after an initial inquest into his death was never resumed. Instead, the Hutton findings were said to be sufficient. But the inquiry applied a less stringent test than would have used in an inquest, where a coroner has to be sure "beyond reasonable doubt" that a person intended to kill themselves.

The doctors are thought to be considering a challenge to the coroner's decision not to allow them to be "interested parties". Freedom of information experts say there appear to be strong grounds for the legal challenges. "If Lord Hutton was not carrying out a statutory inquiry, I can't immediately see what power he had to order that these records be closed," said Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

There's a Facebook group now saying "I want to see the details of the report on the death of Dr David Kelly".


And thanks to friend and fellow-blogger Madame Miaow for hat's up and comments:



At 11:36 AM, Blogger Madam Miaow said...

It's possibly an own goal as many of us who weren't paying attention to this case have now had that attention focused like a laser beam. If the evidence supports the suicide verdict then what's the problem?


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