Monday, 20 June 2011

Letter to Catherine McKinnell Shadow Solicitor-General

Dominic Grieve made his (to my mind) dishonest statement to the House of Commons about Dr Kelly's death on 9 June.  The shadow Solicitor-General, Catherine McKinnell, warmly responded to it.

Earlier today I sent her a letter by email.  The title was 'The Attorney General's misleading statement of 9 June 2011'

This is the text:

Dear Ms McKinnell

The purpose of this letter is to raise a matter of grave concern regarding a statement by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve to the House of Commons on 9 June 2011.  You will recall that it was about the death of Dr David Kelly and whether there should be an inquest into his death.
On behalf of the Opposition you responded to this statement and appeared supportive.  Quite understandably, and thinking of the position held by Mr Grieve, you would have taken the broad sweep of his statement "on trust".  Again, bearing in mind the very substantial amount of documentation that Mr Grieve placed in the Libraries of both Houses, it would be unreasonable to expect you to have been familiar with all the detail when responding on the 9th June.
Mr Grieve in his verbal statement chose to highlight one particular issue that has caused a lot of controversy and that is whether on the 18th July 2003 Dr Kelly's body had been moved between its discovery and its examination by the forensic pathologist.  One of the many concerns of those seeking an inquest is that the body was moved, however the Attorney General has apparently decided that the body's position hadn't changed.  Obviously if there is evidence that the body had been moved in contradiction to the point made by Mr Grieve then his position as Attorney General is totally undermined.
Let us look at the relevant evidence:
1. Two volunteer searchers, Ms Holmes and Mr Chapman with Ms Holmes's search dog Brock, were sent out to the area of Harrowdown Hill, Oxfordshire to look for Dr Kelly.  They found his body at 9.15 am in the wood that covers the top of Harrowdown Hill.
2. In her police witness statement (part of which is now included in Annex TVP1 in the bundle of documents sent to Mr Grieve) we see that Ms Holmes gets as close as 4 feet from the body.  She says 'I saw that this person was slumped against the base of the tree with his head and shoulders resting on the trunk, his legs were stretched out straight in front of him.'   At the Hutton Inquiry her testimony reaffirmed her statement to the police: 'He was at the base of the tree with almost his head and his shoulders just slumped back against the tree' 
3. The other searcher (Mr Chapman) is the person referred to by Mr Grieve as having changed his evidence as to the body position.  Unlike Ms Holmes he evidently didn't go forward to the body, in fact on page 27 of the relevant section of the Hutton website he says  'I probably reached about 15 to 20 metres from it'  (that's about 50 to 65 feet away compared to the 4 feet of Ms Holmes)
4. The first police officer to approach the body was Detective Constable Coe.  This was at 9.40.  In an extremely short witness statement DC Coe states 'I was shown the body of a male person who was lying on his back'   However in an article in "The Mail on Sunday" dated 8 August 2010 DC Coe is quoted as follows:
'As I got closer, I could see Dr Kelly's body sideways on, with his head and shoulders against a large tree.  He wasn't dead flat along the ground.  If you wanted to die, you'd never lie flat out.  But neither was he sat upright'  This obviously confirms the testimony of Ms Holmes.
5. In chapter 5 page 151 of his report Lord Hutton says: 'I have seen a photograph of Dr Kelly's body in the wood which shows that most of his body was lying on the ground but that his head was slumped against the base of the tree'  Again this confirms what Ms Holmes says.
6. About 45 minutes after the body has been found an ambulance crew are checking the body for signs of life.  In a newspaper interview one of the crew, Mr Bartlett, said:
‘He was lying flat out some distance from the tree. He definitely wasn’t leaning against it. I remember saying to the copper, “Are you sure he hasn’t fallen out of the tree?”
‘When I was there the body was far enough away from the tree for someone to get behind it. I know that because I stood there when we were using the electrodes to check his heart. Later I learned that the dog team said they had found him propped up against the tree. He wasn’t when we got there. If the earlier witnesses are saying that, then the body has obviously been moved.’

7. The Attorney General called in a forensic pathologist Dr Shepherd to produce a Forensic Medical Report.  One of the issues examined by Dr Shepherd was the position of the body.  In his report Dr Shepherd has this to say:

The paramedics who attended (Mr Bartlett and Miss Hunt), who examined the body and who certified life extinct, indicate there was a significant gap between the tree and the body in which they were able to stand to examine the body and apply ECG tabs.

It is quite clear from consideration of the photographs of the scene that, at the time they were taken, the body of David Kelly lay with his feet pointing away from the tree and that there was a significant gap between the base of the tree and the top of the head.

Significantly from the above points there is clear disparity between the photographic evidence reports of Lord Hutton and Dr Shepherd.

I believe that the only conclusion one can draw from the evidence itemised above is that either Mr Grieve was grossly incompetent or that he was dishonest in making his statement of the 9th June.

Although I have written to my own MP you are the only other MP I have written to at the present time because of your role in responding to Mr Grieve.  As time permits I may well write to other MPs.  A copy of this letter will appear on my blog  Blind copies of this letter are being sent to people who I consider have a particular interest in the subject matter.

I ask you now to raise questions about the behaviour of the present Attorney General Dominic Grieve and about his competence and integrity.

I await your response.

Yours sincerely

Brian Spencer

If, having read this, you want to contact Ms McKinnell, her email address is  Her office phone number is 0191 2861266


  1. See here for Antony Barnett The Observer, Sunday 12 December 2004, which brings up this issue.

    The discrepancy in the accounts is blamed (by Hutton and Grieve) on honest but unsatisfactory witnesses.

    But what Grieve has done in introduce new evidence 1) he referred in his statement to Parliament to photographs that show Dr Kelly's head very close to a tree; and 2) Prof Shepherd in his report to the Attorney General says photographs show a significant gap between the head and the tree.

    This is NEW evidence which if true proves that the body was moved and therefore there was third party activity at the scene.

    This is not, now, about the memory or recall of one particular witness or another; this is about hard proof being deliberately withheld until now.

    If the photographs that Grieve and Shepherd refer to exist then they prove a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice has occurred.

    If either Grieve and or Shepherd is not telling the truth about the photographs this too is evidence of them perverting the course of justice.

    Whichever is the case a proper criminal investigation must now take place to ascertain the truth.

  2. It's very strange that the press has not picked up on the release of crucial new evidence by the Attorney General.

    It would seem entirely proper for a newspaper to question the Attorney General's assertion that Dr Kelly's body was not moved after it was found by the search team; when Mr Grieve, himself, in his statement to Parliament (and subsequent disclosures) revealed there exist photographs that show the body in more than one position.

    This is new evidence, the different positions shown in the photographs has been kept secret until now.

    All I can think is that a D notice has been slapped on the reporting of this vastly important piece of news.

    Does anyone know how to find out what current D notices are in force? How does a member of the public find out what the government doesn't want us to know?

  3. LL, I suspect that many editors might be "in bed" with the government of the day. Too many cosy chats over expensive lunches maybe!

    As likely in this instance perhaps is a degree of lazy journalism where statements aren't forensically examined (which is where we come in of course!!). The normal expectation of a statement by an Attorney General is that it's honest and that he or she has been competent in looking at the facts.

    It wouldn't surprise me if many newspapers are blissfully unaware of the differing positions of the body that have been described from photographs.

    Personally I don't feel the description of body position by Mr Grieve is sufficiently different from that of Dr Shepherd to be picked up by the press, although they are different. It is the Hutton/Shepherd comparison that is critical in my opinion.

    Sadly a non investigative journalist is not going to be familiar with a statement buried in chapter 5 of Lord Hutton's Report - about the head of the body slumped against the tree.

    As all the information in my letter is in the public domain I can't see any legal reason why newspapers can't similarly use it. The fact is though that it takes a certain amount of work and intimate knowledge to put it all together.

  4. Two possibilities exist regarding the photograph that Hutton says he saw 1)He made up it's existence to reconcile the two widely different accounts of how early witnesses saw the body. And 2) It does exist but that begs the question when was it taken and by whom?

    Point 2 first; one interpretation of the timing of events given by witnesses make it possible for Coe, Shields, 3rd man, Franklin, Sawyer and Dadd to have time alone with the body before the ambulance crew arrive. Sawyer has a camera, he takes the picture Hutton saw before the body is moved a distance away from the tree as witnessed by the ambulance crew and seen in photographs that Dr Shepherd saw.

    After the ambulance crew leave but before the pathologist arrives the body is moved back towards the tree with its head very close to the tree but not touching as witnesses by the pathologist and seen in photos refered to by the Attorney General.

    Point one; even if Hutton lied about the photo he had seen there remains a problem with the photos that Shepherd has seen and Grieve refers to and until the reason for the body being moved between when these two sets of photos were taken suspicion will hang over all those involved.

  5. LL, I've thought for some time that your point 2 is not an impossible scenario.

    Remember too that an FOI request disclosed that the time and date stamp were not incorporated in the photo taking process when PC Sawyer was snapping away. Carelessness on his part or something more sinister?

  6. Digital photography ought to have been available to the police by then. 50 million were sold that year, with largest growth in Europe. I find it rather odd that Thames Valley Police were using Praktica or Zenit (or whatever) cameras with film! Otherwise, digital images ought to have incorporated timed data.

  7. Felix, PC Sawyer's testimony is that he used his digital camera. It's normal default position would be for the time and date stamp to be applied I would think. An FOI request from me indicated that the time and date stamp weren't incorporated in the photograph taking process suggesting that this facility had been switched off.

  8. Brian

    As I think I may have responded earlier (and I have no expertise in this area) I thought digital cameras always date / time stamped the image files.

    This is diferent to the physical photo having a date/time printed on it as you can choose / not choose with most cameras.

    I suspect the response you got to your foi was disingenuous; no the physical photos printed didn't have a date/time stamp but the electronic file probably had.

  9. Ah, you're right,Brian. I wonder what he wanted to say...
    " I wanted to take a record of the scene before it was...before we actually approached it. " Notice Sawyer hastily changed tack. Was interfered with,perhaps??

  10. One might ask why any photographs were needed for an investigation of a crime scene to be taken by protection / search PCs, when SOCO would be on the way and an outer cordons to protect the integrity of the scene had already been established at 09.28. Had the PC been issued with the camera specially just in case he would encounter a crime scene (which may have been highly unlikely given that Dr Kelly could have been absolutely anywhere.
    The rationale is buried here:

    "We take photographs of these sort of scenes all the time as a matter of course because we knew the paramedics would be disturbing the clothing and possibly disturbing the scene."

    So, do all search PCs carry cameras just in case they encounter a crime scene? Is this credible?

    One does wonder when SOCO arrived.

  11. I forgot - the search team is not searching on the ground for a high risk missing person two hours later: PC Franklin arrives at Abingdon Police station at about 07.20, and right away their Sergeant, Webb, tells him that Harrowdown Hill is a red hot candidate for finding Dr K. Where were they two hours later? Abingdon police station, if they are to be believed, waiting for a call. But an invisible cordon is already up at Harrowdown Hill when they arrive (with camera).
    PC Sawyer arrives at Abingdon about 0800. He is tasked specifically to set up cordons inter alia:
    "They [Franklin & SIO] will decide on the parameters of the search, what they want searched. It is then turned over to me to organise the logistics of it, to plan the search, do the cordons, to set the searchers going and supervise them while they are searching....

    "We had three other officers in the back who we took from the search team to act as the cordons...[the paramedics] had arrived more or less at the same time we did.

    I am afraid this does not make sense. The call did not come in at 0900 as Sawyer says, but 0920. Sawyer's three men in the back could not have created the cordon by 0928. The ambulance arrived nearer 0955.

    So what was the search team up to by 09.55?

  12. Felix, Franklin and Sawyer were specialist searchers who had particular training to do the job. Their work wasn't confined to searches for missing persons or "mispers". I suspect that a digital camera would be a standard part of the kit that goes with the job description and that Sawyer would have had it with him regardless of the nature of the search.

    With potential disturbance by ambulance crews I don't think it's a bad idea to have some record photos before anyone else comes to the scene. It might have been over exuberance on his part though to keep taking photos even when buttons were being undone.

    We aren't told about when the SOCOs arrived unfortunately but if the official narrative is credible then the SOCOs would have turned up after the ambulance crew had done their stuff. On that basis Sawyer taking photos seems not too unsurprising in my view.

    However it's always possible that the police were keen to demonstrate to the ambulance crew that these were their first photos of the day. The problem for them now though is that Lord Hutton maintains in chapter 5 of his report that he has seen a photo of the head against the tree whereas it's clear from Dave Bartlett's press interview that the head was a significant distance from the tree when the ambulance crew arrived at the body - supposedly in tandem with Franklin and Sawyer!

  13. Felix, PC Franklin and PC Sawyer's sergeant is Paul Wood (or Woods, not sure which is right). Sgt Webb is going backwards and forwards to Southmoor.

    The time of arrival of PC Franklin at Abingdon isn't I think stated. Certainly he gets a call at 6.15 and reckons it's about an hours journey. What we don't know though is when he left for Abingdon - he might still have been in bed when the phone rang!

    He gets there before Sawyer evidently and I'll guess it's at about 7.45. He has a brief conversation with his sergeant but the briefing proper starts when Sawyer arrives at about 8 o'clock.

    Granted there is some bureaucracy to deal with but I find it surprising that they haven't departed before the 9.20 phone call from Paul Chapman.

    The early reference to cordons is intriguing. I would be interested to know the logistics of the original search they were planning which surely would be very different to the fingertip searches they eventually carried out.

  14. It is then credible that the photo seen by Lord Hutton was taken by persons unknown between the arrival of the SEBEV volunteers and the quartet of the two PCs and the two paramedics. That is quite extraordinary. Or even before the official finding of Dr Kelly.

  15. Felix, see my new post of today's date regarding the photographs of the body position.

    Taking into account the press interview with Dave Bartlett and the statement in Dr Shepherd's report it seems strange that Lord Hutton wouldn't have also seen some of the photographs noted by Shepherd.

    The really significant thing in my opinion is that on the 28 January 2004 nobody realised that the fact of the position of the body being AWAY from the tree would come into the public domain.

    It's not impossible that photos were taken between the time the searchers left the body and the arrival at the body by the ambulance crew in my opinion.