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Police Investigate Disappearance of British Scientist

Aired July 18, 2003 - 20:16   ET


SOPHIA CHOI, CNN ANCHOR: A body matching the description of British scientist David Kelly has been found near his home in London, this just days after he testified at British Parliament about whether he leaked information to the media about faulty intelligence that helped make the case for war in Iraq.
Jim Bolden is in London with the latest.


JIM BOLDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Weapons expert and microbiologist Dr. David Kelly was a man used to working behind the scenes. In the last week, however, the mild-mannered civil servant was thrust into the media spotlight, accused of being the possible mole behind a leak to the media that led to claims against the British government's dossier on Iraq.

The controversy began in May, when the BBC reported that the Iraq dossier, a key document in the cause for going to war, was -- quote -- "sexed up," against the wishes of the British intelligence services. The government vehemently denied the claim and demanded an apology. Soon after, Kelly, a senior biological weapons adviser who worked for the U.N. in Iraq in the 1990s, volunteered to the Ministry of Defense that he had indeed spoken to the media.

On Tuesday, Kelly gave evidence to a special parliamentary committee regarding the dossier and the BBC report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, I'm asking you now. This is the high court of Parliament. And I want you to tell the committee who you've met.

DAVID KELLY, FORMER BRITISH DEFENSE MINISTRY EXPERT: On this occasion, I think it's proper that the Ministry of Defense communicate that to you.

BOLDEN: During the hearing, Kelly appeared distressed when asked if he had been made a scapegoat for the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ever felt like a fall guy? I mean, you've been set up, haven't you?

KELLY: That's not a question I can answer.

BOLDEN: The Ministry of Defense said Friday that Kelly had, -- quote -- "at no point been threatened with suspension or dismissal as a result of his admission." On Thursday, Dr. Kelly left his Oxfordshire home at 3:00 p.m., telling his wife he was going for a walk. His family contacted the police at 11:45 p.m., when he had still not returned. They said this was out of character for the doctor. But friends of the doctor said his wife had been witness to the strain he was under.

TOM MANGOLD, FAMILY FRIEND: But she said he was very, very stressed and very unhappy about what had happened, because this was really not the kind of world he wanted to live in.

BOLDEN: Police searched his home and surroundings without finding Dr. Kelly. But Friday morning, police found a body, but they won't make a formal identification until Saturday.

DAVID PORNELI, THAMES VALLEY POLICE: But what I can say is that the description of the man found there matches the description of Dr. David Kelly. And, clearly, at this very difficult time, our condolences must go out to his family, friends, and work colleagues.

BOLDEN: The death remains unexplained for now.

Jim Bolden, CNN, London.


CHOI: What kind of pressure might Kelly have been under from the British government, and could there be serious political repercussions for British Prime Minister Tony Blair?

Kim Sengupta, who works for the British newspaper "The Independent," and he joins us from our London bureau.

Thanks for joining us.

So let's talk about the significance. If this in fact is the body of David Kelly, what is the significance?

KIM SENGUPTA, "THE INDEPENDENT": Well, it's quite important. It could be quite catastrophic for the minister of defense and even -- and Downing Street. It is something which caught everyone by surprise. There's a sense of shock at the moment. There's a lot of people in the ministries and even in the media who knew David Kelly very well. And no one could have guessed that the whole thing should end in such a tragic fashion.

CHOI: What kind of pressure was he under? Why would he commit suicide?

SENGUPTA: Well, the last bit we don't know yet, but he has been under the most intense pressure. He came forward to clear himself as the man who was the alleged mole for the allegations made by Andrew Gilligan, the BBC's defense correspondent, about government manipulation of the first dossier back in September.

And from what we gather by speaking to his colleagues and his friends, he thought it's a very straightforward affair. But he was apparently put through the most intense of grillings for almost five days before he was produced by the MoD for the media. There were various deals apparently made that he would not be named, that the government would not say that he was a suspect in this. But he was named within 24 hours by government officials. And then you heard Downing Street saying openly, they're declaring that, in their eyes, he was the chief suspect.


CHOI: But was he ever threatened by the government?

SENGUPTA: I think the -- again, all we're hearing are reports which are coming through. There are certainly reports tonight that he was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

And if that was the case and if he was convicted, then he faced a jail sentence. Don't forget, this is a man who spent most of his working life working as he thought best for the government. He was in Iraq 37 times working for UNSCOM. He had been to Russia, did some valuable work there detecting the Soviet biological program. And he, according to his colleagues, felt stunned and betrayed by what had happened to him.

CHOI: Will this be problematic for Tony Blair?

SENGUPTA: Oh, undoubtedly.

The alacrity, the speed with which the prime minister has agreed to a judicial inquiry shows just how jittery, how jumpy they are. If it can be proved that undue pressure was put on David Kelly, if it can be proved that he was, as the Foreign Affairs Committee has already said, he was used as a fall guy, a scapegoat by the government, then the repercussions could be very, very damaging, reaching right up to the prime minister.

CHOI: Well, let's take it one step further. Do you see any connection at all between Bush's now infamous 16 words in the State of the Union address and David Kelly?

SENGUPTA: Well, David Kelly, of course, would say no. And that's what he has been saying, that he met Andrew Gilligan, the journalist, and he meets many journalists to explain technical details. His case has always been that he has never passed on any intelligence.

The government flailing around, British government flailing around, trying to find some way of getting back at the media, have been saying that he's a chief suspect of leaks. We don't know. David Kelly can't defend himself any longer. Of course he's dead. But the government had been alleging, it appears to many journalists, without really any evidence that he was a mole for the media.

CHOI: And, at this point, we really don't know what happened to him, whether this was suicide, or, perhaps because he was under so much stress, that he had a fatal illness, like a heart attack, perhaps a fatal stroke. SENGUPTA: Maybe. We don't know, is the answer.

His wife has told friends that he showed no -- no immediate sign of distress, although he came back physically sick, apparently, according to friends of the family, from his session with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. He was suffering from acute stress. He was suffering from a sense of injustice and also some deep anger.

But she told a friend today that apparently he was seen 15 minutes away from their home walking by himself, smiling to himself. And so we have got no evidence that he was suffering from immediate stress. And there is -- as far as we know at the moment, there has been no suicide notes left. All we do know is, a body has been found which appears to be David Kelly.

CHOI: Kim Sengupta, thank you so much, with "The Independent." Thanks for your insights.

SENGUPTA: Thank you.


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