Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Cause of Death: The Cause of Dr Kelly's Death

Cause of Death: The Cause of Dr Kelly's Death: "The group of doctors seeking a proper inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly have always taken the view that he is extremely unlikely to..."

The Cause of Dr Kelly's Death

The group of doctors seeking a proper inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly have always taken the view that he is extremely unlikely to have died from haemorrhage from his left ulnar artery.
That view was publically supported by a second group of doctors in their letter to The Times in August 2010.
I have met no doctor who takes a contrary view.
Is it possible that Dr Hunt also was of this opinion by the time he had finished his examination at the scene and the post mortem on 18th/19th July 2003 might that be why at the opening of the Inquest by the Oxford Coroner, Mr Gardiner, on 21st July 2010,  Dr Hunt gave another cause of death (perhaps overdose in the light of the empty packets of coproxamol)?
We do not know what “evidence” was given at the opening of the Inquest but we do know from Mr Gardiner that Dr Hunt subsequently wished to change his opinion.  In a letter to the Department of Constitutional Affairs in August, Mr Gardiner wrote:

The preliminary cause of death given at the opening of the inquest no longer represents the view of the Pathologist and evidence from him would need to be given to correct and update the evidence already received.
As you will know, a coroner has power to compel the attendance of witnesses. There are no such powers attached to a Public Inquiry. If I do adjourn under Section 17(1), I would be unable to resume, if at all, until after the Public Inquiry has been concluded and thus would not be in position to assist Lord Hutton, should any assistance be needed in that respect.
In matters of this sort, I need to be scrupulous in following the provisions of the Coroner's Rules, and I have in mind in particular Rule 16 (Adjournements in a Formal Manner) and Rule 19 (Obligation to Notify Family).''

In my opinion Dr Hunt was probably awaiting the toxicology to confirm his initial conclusion of overdose or at least a non-haemorrhagic cause of death.  However the toxicology did not explain the death.  There was no support then for his initial conclusion.   He would have been obliged to find an alternative cause of death and, at the resumed inquest hearing on 14th August 2003 about which the public was unaware Dr Hunt gave haemorrhage as his primary cause of death.  Meanwhile on the same day media attention was focused on the evidence Lord Hutton was hearing in London.
Dr Hunt, against his inclination, gave haemorrhage as the primary cause of death.  The coproxamol “ingestion” and coronary atherosclerosis were merely ancillary.
When challenged on his opinion last year,  Dr Hunt sought to support his conclusion by telling The Sunday Times about “big thick clots of blood inside the sleeve which came down over the wrist”.  This new “evidence” emerged 7 years after his involvement.  It was not part of his account to Lord Hutton.  Moreover, despite Dr Hunt saying to The Sunday Times “I noted it in my report”, when the report was subsequently disclosed by the Ministry of Justice, there was no such note to be found.
Lord Hutton was effectively obliged to accept the evidence on the cause of death from Dr Hunt because it had been determined by the coroner in private and registered by the Registrar of Deaths 5 months earlier:
If I am correct, the change from his first opinion as to the cause of death (which in the circumstances could not be maintained) and more particularly the delayed “beefing up” of the evidence of blood loss, throws further into doubt on the cause of death.

Dr Michael J Powers QC
31st May 2011

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The investigation of death is supposed to make us all feel safer in life.  Whether it is learning lessons from fatal accidents or understanding why medical treatment went wrong, the coronial system should provide us with explanations, accountability and hope for a better future.

We all recognise that coroners are underfunded.  

The Prime Minister is to be congratulated for undertaking to bring the Military Covenant into law.  The debt owed by our Nation to our service men and women extends beyond their deaths on active service.  It is a disgrace that public money is spent by the Ministry of Defence on lawyers to defend its own interests in the ensuing inquests whilst bereaved families are denied publically funded legal representation.  Section 51 of the dormant Coroners and Justice Act 2009 should be brought into force immediately to rectify this iniquity.

It has been the failure properly to have a full, open inquiry into the circumstances of the death of the late Dr David Kelly which has provoked so much concern.  This highly respected government scientist is also owed a duty to ascertain exactly how he came by his death.  An informal inquiry, evidence not taken on oath, witnesses not being compellable to give evidence such as was undertaken by Lord Hutton is no substitute for a properly conducted inquest where the rigours of cross examination will often elucidate the truth.

Openness is the answer to most anxieties giving rise to suspicions of conspiracy and cover-up whether in medical treatment failures or unnatural deaths where prominent individuals loose their lives in highly unusual circumstances.

There are those who dismiss the call for a proper inquest into the death of Dr Kelly as being driven by "conspiracy theorists".   Dubbing this call in such a way is an attempt to dismiss consideration on the merits.  Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water; there is a real and justifiable concern about the adequacy of Lord Hutton's inquiry in respect to the cause of Dr Kelly's death.