Blair Under Fire For Suicide

David Kelly is seen after being questioned by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in London this July 15, 2003 file photo.
AP (file)
A British weapons expert suspected of telling the BBC that the Blair government hyped intelligence about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction apparently killed himself by slashing his left wrist, police say.

The death of David Kelly plunges British Prime Minister Tony Blair into a deeper political crisis over the intelligence used to justify war in Iraq, reports CBS News reporter Charles D'Agata. Many hold his administration responsible for driving Kelly to suicide by making him testify before a Parliamentary committee earlier this week.

Polls show the British public is losing faith in Blair with a majority feeling they were misled about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction - the rationale for war, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth.

In a statement read to reporters by police, Kelly's family says, "Events over recent weeks have made David's life intolerable, and all of those involved should reflect long and hard on this fact."

Police said they found a knife and painkillers near Kelly's body, which was discovered Friday in woods not far from his home in the village of Southmoor, 20 miles southwest of Oxford.

"Whilst our inquiries are continuing, there is no indication at this stage of any other party being involved," acting superintendent David Purnell of Thames Valley Police told reporters. The painkiller found at the scene was coproxamol, which often figures in overdose deaths in England.

The New York Times reports that Kelly gave no sign he was depressed in a e-mail message sent to a reporter hours before he disappeared. The message referred to "many dark actors playing games" – an apparent reference to members of Britain's intelligence and military communities with whom he had often argued over interpretations of intelligence reports.

Another associate who got an e-mail message from Kelly shortly before he disappeared said the message was combative and showed a determination to get through the scandal enveloping him and an enthusiasm about returning to Iraq, the Times reports.

In Southmoor — a hamlet little more than a bend in the road, with a Methodist church, hairdresser, newsstand, convenience store and pub — family and friends remembered Kelly for his integrity. Some complained a decent man had been exploited by ruthless politicians trying to duck a scandal.

"Events over recent weeks have made David's life intolerable, and all of those involved should reflect long and hard on this fact," the Kelly family said in a statement Saturday. "A loving private and dignified man has been taken from us all."

Steven Ward, landlord of the Hinds Head pub, said, "He's been made a fall guy."

"David's too straight. David wouldn't lie about anything," Ward said. "This is Blair and his cronies trying to find someone to get them out."

Kelly, a Defense Ministry expert and former U.N. weapons inspector, had spoken off the record with a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter about intelligence on Iraqi weapons. He was investigated as the possible source of BBC claims that Blair's communications chief, Alastair Campbell, had hyped weapons intelligence to help justify going to war.

The BBC reporter said Campbell insisted that a dossier on Iraq, published by the government in September, include a claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes — even though intelligence experts doubted it.

Blair's government and the BBC lashed out at each other for weeks with claim and counterclaim, demands for an apology and refusals. Neither side seemed prepared to give an inch in a fight over credibility.

Through it all, Kelly denied being the source, and it remains unclear if he was. His wife, Janice, reportedly said he was "very angry" at being dragged into a public controversy.

Thursday afternoon, Kelly — a soft-spoken, bearded man with eyeglasses and gray hair — left his house in Southmoor, a village 20 miles southeast of Oxford.

He told his wife he was taking a walk. A local farmer said Kelly smiled as he passed.

At the time, Blair was flying across the Atlantic to Washington where, as America's closest ally in the Iraq war, the prime minister addressed both houses of Congress to tumultuous applause.

Thursday night, Janice Kelly notified police that her husband had not returned. His body was found Friday morning at the edge of a forest not far from his home. His left wrist was slashed, Southmoor police said. A knife and packet of painkillers lay nearby.

By then, Blair's plane was approaching Tokyo, the first stop on a six-day Asian tour. Clearly stricken, the prime minister announced an independent inquiry into Kelly's death.

News of the suicide has overshadowed Blair's trip, increasing pressure on the prime minister over the failure of the United States or Britain to find weapons of mass destruction — the heart of his case for military action

At a press conference Saturday in Japan, Blair stood stony-faced and speechless when a journalist asked, "Have you got blood on your hands, prime minister? Are you going to resign over this?"

An Oxford-educated microbiologist, Kelly had been chief science officer at Britain's Natural Environment Research Council Institute of Virology.

At the Ministry Defense, he rose through the ranks to become head of microbiology from 1984 to 1992, and was senior adviser to the Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat in the Ministry of Defense for more than three years.

Kelly also was considered one of the world's foremost authorities on Iraq's former biological weapons program.

As a chief U.N. inspector, he led the first bioweapons team into Iraq in 1991 and was instrumental in uncovering Iraq's secret biological programs. He led the search for most of the 1990s.

When the inspection regime was reconfigured in 1999, Kelly provided the United Nations with an assessment of Iraq's biological weapons that formed the basis of what both the United Nations and the United States have cited as the key unanswered questions on Iraq's programs.

"Dr. Kelly was known for his professionalism and had the respect of his colleagues," the U.N. inspection team said in a statement Saturday in New York.

Kelly's many friends within the United Nations and the international arms control community said in recent weeks that because of the allegations surrounding the BBC report, he had feared for his new post as an adviser with a Pentagon-led weapons search team in Iraq. He had been in Baghdad in June to prepare for the job.

Southmoor neighbors knew little of Kelly's role in that international scene. Instead, they spoke of his "lovely family" with his wife — eldest daughter, Sian, 32, and twins Rachel and Ellen, 30.

"He never discussed his work, he was a straightforward family man," said Ann Lewis, a longtime resident. "He used to ride horses around the village. He was always a smart, tidy man."